BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) - Brazil heads into the knockout stage of the World Cup with added confidence after finally coming up with a convincing win at its home tournament.
The hosts played well in a 4-1 win over Cameroon on Monday to secure a spot in the round of 16 and regain the trust of fans after two mediocre games.
Players said that more important than the victory was the team’s performance, which showed that Brazil remains on track to contend for the World Cup title.
After winning Group A with two wins and a draw, Brazil will play South American rival Chile on Saturday in Belo Horizonte.
“We knew we could do better,” Brazil striker Hulk said. “We finally played the football that we are used to playing.”
Brazil struggled in the opening match against Croatia, going down a goal before rallying to a 3-1 victory thanks in part to a controversial penalty in the second half. Brazil then was held to a 0-0 draw by Mexico, which had several good chances to score throughout the match.
“We finally got to play with the spirit that we were used seeing in our national team,” Brazil striker Fred said. “We pressured our opponent the way we wanted from the beginning. In the last two matches we had tried but it didn’t work. In the first match we were OK, then we did better in the second and now we improved even more.”
Fred was one of the most relieved players after the team’s good performance in the nation’s capital, scoring his first goal of the tournament to finally ease some of the criticism from fans and local media.
“It wasn’t bothering me that I wasn’t scoring, but that the team wasn’t playing so well,” Fred said. “The entire team improved.”
Neymar scored twice in the first half and Fernandinho closed the scoring near the end in front of nearly 70,000 fans at the Estadio Nacional. Cameroon had equalized after Neymar’s first goal.
Fans’ expectations were high after Brazil was outstanding at the Confederations Cup warm-up tournament last year. The team coached by Luiz Felipe Scolari also thrived in friendlies ahead of the World Cup, winning 15 of the 16 matches it played before the competition.
After the slow start at the World Cup, local media had been criticizing the team’s performances and questioning whether the five-time champions would be able to remain in contention for the much-coveted title at home.
The victory against Cameroon allowed Brazil to finish first in the group to avoid the Netherlands, which knocked it out in the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The hosts instead will play Chile, the South American rival that it has beaten all three times it played in World Cups, including 3-0 in the second round of the tournament in South Africa.
“We are almost at the level we think we need to be for the knockout stage,” Scolari said. “We began the group stage at an inferior level compared to how we played in the Confederations Cup. But we are becoming better day after day.”