The world cup kicks off with group A, naturally, on June 12 2014. Brazil, the hosts, will take on Croatia, in what seems to be their toughest group fixture on paper, and will be strong favourites to progress from their group, with no recognisable world football superpower in their way at this stage.
Brazil’s squad boasts a plethora of attacking talent, from Neymar to the likes of Willian and Hulk, but their defensive capabilities are not to be sniffed at. With Marcelo, Alves, Silva and Dante just a handful of the star names protecting the South American side’s goal, Paulinho, Ramires and Fernandinho will add balance to a midfield which will look to wow the crowds with rabonas, stepovers and maradona turns. Brazil will likely be tournament favourites due to a combination of their talent and home advantage (England 1966 and France 1998 for example), and anything less than world cup glory could spell disaster on a scale similar to the 1950 defeat of Uruguay in the Maracana. Notable absentees from the final squad include Rafinha, Lucas Leiva and PSG wonderkid Lucas Moura. Neymar, aged just 22, has 30 international goals already for Brazil, and should he score 5 goals minimum during the course of the tournament, he will move into sixth on the all time goal list for Brazil, with Rivaldo only 4 goals ahead of him.
Croatia will most likely battle it out for second place in the group with Mexico, but in terms of star names they can field a more intimidating first XI. Dejan Lovren is in the squad off the back of an impressive season for Premier League highflyers Southampton and he’ll be joined by Luka Modric, Niko Kranjcar, Mario Mandzukic, Ivica Olic, Eduardo, and Nikica Jelavic. The aforementioned four strikers make for an impressive set of attacking options. A typically well organised team, Croatia surprisingly have the least World Cup experience in group A, with just three previous appearances. Their finest World Cup moment came in 1998, when on their World Cup Finals debut they finished impressively in third place, with Davor Suker winning the golden boot. Croatia will fancy their chances of qualifying for the round of 16, but their main competitors for that privilege will most likely be Mexico.
Mexico have an impressive attendance record at World Cup Finals competitions, with Brazil 2014 being their fifteenth appearance. The South American side may have a slight advantage by playing in their home continent, but their side does not showcase the stellar names of Brazil’s or even Croatia’s squad. Notable selections include Andres Guardardo, who although having 100 national caps to his name has played very little football on loan at Bayer Leverkusen this season. The attacking threat will come from Giovani dos Santos and Manchester United’s Javier Hernandez who, at only 25 years old, is 11 goals away from the Mexico goal scoring record with 35 international goals to his name. Mexico’s pedigree at the world cup shows they do not just make up the numbers, finding themselves in the round of 16 in the previous five World Cups as well as reaching the quarter finals in 1970 and 1986, but they’ll do well to reach the knockout stage of the tournament this time.
Cameroon will be expected to finish bottom of Group A. The African side have plenty of World Cup experience, with this being their seventh appearance in a World Cup Finals tournament, but they will have to spring a few surprises to beat Croatia or Mexico to the runner-up position in Group A. Stranger things have happened at the World Cup however, and in Alex Song and Samuel Eto’o they have players who have plenty of Champions League experience, not to mention having played for clubs such as Barcelona, Arsenal, Chelsea and Inter Milan between them. Other notable names include Assou-Ekotto and Stephane Mbia. Any hopes of reaching the knockout stages surely rest with these players.
12 June 2014
Brazil v Croatia, Arena de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, 21:00 (ITV) prediction: 3-0
13 June 2014
Mexico v Cameroon, Arena das Dunas, Natal, 17:00 (ITV) prediction: 2-1
17 June 2014
Brazil v Mexico, Estadio Castelao, Fortaleza, 20:00 (BBC) prediction 4-1
18 June 2014
Cameroon v Croatia, Arena Amazonia, Manaus, 23:00 (ITV) prediction: 0-2
23 June 2014
Cameroon v Brazil, Estadio Nacional, Brasilia, 21:00 (ITV) prediction: 0-4
23 June 2014
Croatia v Mexico, Arena Pernambuco, Recife, 21:00 (ITV) prediction: 2-1
The way the matches are set up means that on paper, group runner up could be all to play for in the final game as Croatia and Mexico battle it out in Recife. I have Croatia down to clinch second place, but I think it’ll be an edgy game.Tweet