Group A seems as though it could feature some of the more entertaining matches in the World Cup. All eyes will be on the hosts Brazil as they attempt to make an early impression for their vibrant following. Croatia are the European team in the group and have players who are capable of making an impact on any stage. Mexico and Cameroon are two more exciting teams which make up the rest of the group so there should be some tasty encounters starting off with Brazil vs. Croatia who kick off what hopes to be World Cup to remember.
Brazil have all the pressure on their shoulders with the football mad country seemingly ready after years of preparation. The crowd will expect nothing less than for their home team to win the tournament, which is easier said than done even with the conditions being in their favour. Luiz Felipe Scolari’s men will hope for fortunes similar to that of the Confederations Cup last year which Brazil won and won in some style. The typical flare, silky skills and exciting football normally associated with Brazilian football was there for all to see and they capped it off by beating a strong Spain outfit 3-0 in the final to win the tournament for a third consecutive time. In their last 15 competitive games, Brazil have won all but one game, which was a 1-0 loss to Switzerland in August of last year. A 4-0 win against Panama was followed up by a 1-0 win against Serbia which means Brazil go into the opening game in good form.
Goalkeepers: Julio Cesar, Jefferson, Victor.
Defenders: Marcelo, Maxwell, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Dante, Henrique, Daniel Alves, Maicon.
Midfielders: Paulinho, Ramires, Willian, Oscar, Hernanes, Luiz Gustavo, Fernandinho.
Forwards: Bernard, Neymar, Fred, Jo, Hulk.
Star Player: Neymar
Neymar is undoubtedly the poster boy of Brazilian football and his move to Barcelona at the start of last season only reinforced his superstar status to the world. He has a long way to go however to emulate the likes of Pele and Ronaldo who have both starred in previous World Cups, but many feel that it could be Neymar’s time to shine. His performances at the 2013 Confederations Cup won him the Golden Ball award for player of the tournament, scoring four goals including one in the final against Spain. Neymar managed nine goals from his 17 appearance last year and also contrubted eight assists from his 41 chances created. He averaged around three shots a game and does enjoy a few dribbles now and again, with his trickery feet and pace a nightmare for defenders.
One to watch: Fred
Not one of your more conventional Brazilian strikers, Fred has been Scolari’s first choice front man since taking over. After various spells in the Brazilian squad, Fred established himself as Brazil’s main forward in 2013 where he notched nine goals in 10 games, including five in the Confederations Cup, winning the Golden Boot in the process. Fred has only managed five goals for his club Fluminense in the Brazilian league due to a number of injuries. He still managed two goals and two assists in those five games and Scolari has felt that he merited a place in his team ahead of Leandro Damiao, who missed the cut. Fred scored the winner in the match against Serbia and will spearhead the attack for Brazil alongside Neymar and Hulk.
Goalkeepers: Stipe Pletikosa, Danijel Subasic, Oliver Zelenika.
Defenders: Darijo Srna, Dejan Lovren, Vedran Corluka, Gordon Schildenfeld, Danijel Pranjic, Domagoj Vida, Sime Vrsaljko.
Midfielders: Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Ognjen Vukojevic, Ivan Perisic, Mateo Kovacic, Marcelo Brozovic, Sammir, Ivan Mocinic.
Forwards: Mario Mandzukic, Ivica Olic, Eduardo, Nikica Jelavic, Ante Rebic.
Star Player: Luka Modric
Modric has had a fine season with Real Madrid, with his performances helping him nail down a first team place as well as winning the Copa Del Rey and the coveted Champions League on the way. Modric struggled somewhat in his first season at Madrid, with Ozil playing the role of creative midfielder even after his £33 million switch from Spurs. With Ozil leaving for Arsenal, Modric established a fantastic partnership with Alonso last season and averaged a highly impressive passing success rate of 90%. With one goal and six assists to his name, the Croatian put in some fantastic performances, especially against Bayern Munich in the Champions League and will hope to do so against Brazil in the opening game.
One to watch: Ivan Rakitic
Rakitic enjoying an excellent season with Sevilla last season and has been tipped to play in the colours of Barcelona next season. The 26-year-old contributed 12 goals and 10 assists in his 29 games last year and helped his side lift the Europa League title and a penalty shoot out win against Benfica. Rakitic will hold the key to Croatia’s attacking play and having created 78 chances, will want more of the same if his team are to trouble Brazil.
Possible Line Up
The two teams have only met each other twice in competitive international football. Their first meeting came in a friendly in 2005 which ended in a 1-1 draw. They also met in the 2006 World Cup in Germany which Brazil won 1-0 thanks to a goal from Kaka just before half-time.
Although I feel Croatia will provide a stern test for the hosts, Brazil will eventually have enough to break them down with the home crowd going home happy.