A Colombia victory to cement their achievements?

With all the furore over Luis Suarez and the attention that inevitably circulates around Lionel Messi and Neymar, it is all to easy to overlook the achievements of the South and Central American sides in this tournament. Of the ten nations from the two American federations that qualified for these finals, eight have made it through to the last sixteen. Only Honduras and Ecuador have fallen at the first hurdle. Whilst we would all have expected Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay to qualify, the feats of Mexico, Costa Rica, USA, Colombia and Chile have provided us with some of the highlights of this already spectacular world cup.

When the draw was made it appeared that lady luck had deserted the USA. Drawn in a group with Germany, Portugal and Ghana, they were seen as the whipping boys in the one genuine group of death. However, they took advantage of being drawn to play Ghana (on paper their easiest game) in their first match and stunned the African side with an aggressive brand of football that yielded an early three points that proved so vital in a tight group. Their performance against Portugal merited a victory and it was fitting in the end that they qualified at the expense of Cristiano Ronaldo and his team. The USA manager Jurgen Klinsmann has achieved a minor miracle in whipping up public support for ‘soccer.’ The game against Portugal was the most viewed televised match in the country’s history with an estimated audience of 24.7 million. The squad is united under Klinsmann’s passionate approach to management and a second round tie with Belgium is not an insurmountable task.

Chile’s performance in group B was viewed as a surprise by some. However, given the events of the last year it shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone. Their performance last November in beating England 2-0 at Wembley in distinctly un-South American conditions was highly impressive and marked them down as potential dark horses. They were equally adept in disposing of world champions Spain in their second group match in one of the most committed team displays of the tournament so far. Their squad is young and the players are able to pound every blade of grass relentlessly. Spain and Australia simply could not cope with the energy of the Chilean players. However, a defeat to an under strength Dutch side in the final group game shows that genuinely quality sides can get themselves one step ahead. Brazil in the second round may be too much for Chile.

With a population of just under 4 million, Costa Rica were by far the smallest and lowest ranked nation in Group B. However, they belied their lowly status by catching Uruguay cold in the first match. They followed that up in the second match by completely outhinking the Italians in one of the great tactical displays of the group stages. This was no plucky, lucky underdog story Instead the Ticos were superior to Italy in every area of the pitch. A nil-nil draw with England secured top spot in the group and provided us with one of the great world cup stories of recent times. Can you remember the last time that the fourth seeded team won their group? A last sixteen tie with Greece provides Costa Rica with a great chance of making the quarter finals.

Mexico have been a joy to watch from the word go. in the first match against Cameroon they were denied two first half goals in controversial circumstances yet they maintained their discipline and eventually earned a 1-0 victory. Against Brazil, goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa produced one of the finest displays by a stopper in a world cup finals match. One particular save from a Neymar header drew comparisons with Gordon Banks’ block to deny Pele in 1970 and is undoubtedly the save of the tournament so far. Mexico were far too good for Croatia in the winner takes all final group match and the joy of manager Miguel Herrera as his team scored three second half goals was one of the most priceless images of the tournament. Mexico have been solid in all three of their games, Ivan Perisic’s late consolation goal for Croatia was the only goal Ochoa conceded in the group stages. They have the joint best defensive record in the tournament with Costa Rica thought they will be severely tested by the firepower of the Netherlands in the second round.

Finally, Colombia have been the most impressive of the American outfits so far. Shorn of their best player Radamel Falcao on the eve of the tournament, they have still managed to blow aside all three of their Group C opponents. James Rodriguez and Jackson Martinez have struck up an impressive partnership up front that has seen the pair score five of their team’s nine goals between them. Rodriguez’s goal against Japan in Colombia’s final match was one of the goals of the tournament so far however, the 4-1 victory will be remembered for the wonderful moment when 43 year old goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon was brought on as a substitute and subsequently broke Roger Milla’s record as the oldest player to appear in a world cup match. It was a gesture that epitomised the spirit of the Colombian team at this moment in time. They play Uruguay in the second round. The Uruguayans will be without Luis Suarez who has rightly been hit with a four month worldwide ban for his bite on Giorgio Chiellini. The reaction of the Uruguayan camp in the aftermath of Suarez’s latest indiscretion has been unsavoury at best. The circus surrounding Suarez has unfairly distracted from the achievements of all the South American sides, including Brazil and Argentina. To a man they have shown a commitment to entertaining and virtuoso football (Uruguay excepted) and they have each embodied the spirit of this sensational competition.

It would therefore, be a fitting and poetic moment if Colombia were to dispatch Uruguay in the second round not just for the American teams but for the tournament itself.

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And the Oscar goes too…

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If one player is a poster boy for this world cup, then that player is Neymar. The man at the centre of a controversial transfer to Barcelona last summer did not exactly pull up trees in his first season in La Liga. However, his record for his country (33 goals in 50 caps including last night’s game) is staggering. It is all the more impressive when you consider he is only 22 years of age and is indeed the youngest Brazilian to reach 50 international caps. It is little wonder then that he carries the hopes of 200 millions fans squarely on his shoulders. However, despite his two goals last night Neymar was by no means the star of the show. On the right hand side, Oscar’s performance was breathtaking. Frozen out at Chelsea by Mourinho at the end of last season, the young midfielder appeared invigorated last night. His constant energy was a thorn in the side of Croatia left back Vrsaljko. His trickery was mesmerising and some of his crosses were perfectly placed (David Luiz failed to do justice to one such moment of magic late in the second half). His goal at the end, an instinctive toe poke from outside the box was a just reward for an enterprising performance.

Neymar will doubtless steal plenty of headlines throughout this tournament but the early honours go to Oscar.

Brazil 3 – 1 Croatia

Brazil: Cesar; Alves, Silva, Luiz, Marcelo; Paulinho, Gustavo; Hulk, Oscar, Neymar; Fred. Croatia: Pletikosa; Srna, Corluka, Lovren, Vrsaijko; Kovacic, Modric; Rakitic, Perisic, Olic; Jelavic.

Ref: Yuichi Nishimura
Att: 62,103

Story of the match:

  • Neymar scores twice for hosts
  • Croatia angry at penalty decision
  • Oscar also on target for Brazil
  • Vanishing spray and goal-line technology used for first time at World Cup

Brazil are off and running.

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — It was Dia dos Namorados on Thursday, the Brazilian equivalent of Valentine’s Day, which meant there were chocolates and flowers and couples holding hands tucked among the sea of yellow jerseys that stretched from the Itaquera neighborhood over to Jardins. From sunrise all the way until the shimmering moon peeked above the skyline, Brazilians showed their passion for one another, and for soccer, as the World Cup began.

But love — in any form — is a complicated matter. While there were moments of heat and adoration, particularly when Neymar scored the first of his two goals with a shot that bounced in off the post, Brazil’s 3-1 victory over Croatia hardly made for the perfect date. Inside and outside Arena Corinthians, emotions were mixed even before a referee’s decision in favor of Brazil plunged the tournament into controversy in the first game.

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I’m feeling rather sorry for Croatia who were quite hard done by. Neymar should have been sent off before both goals for a high elbow, a soft soft Peno, and perhaps an equaliser unfairly disallowed.

As it Happened.

  • 11′  It Was An Auto-Gol!
  • 26′ Reeee -nope YELLOW card
  • 29′ GOAAAALL NEYMARR
  • 69′  Penalty To Brazil! Brazil Leads 2-1!
  • 84′  No Goal
  • 92′  Gooooooooooool Brazil!

The moments before kick-off had been typically rousing. A passionate Brazilian crowd delivered another fervent rendition of the national anthem. Croatia were no more than an afterthought to most outside the thousand travelling fans.

Brazil actually fell behind early when Marcelo turned the ball into his own net in the 11th minute, after Ivica Olic had sprinted down the left side and sent a dangerous cross in front of the goal.

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Marcelo, who was retreating, basically ran the ball into his own net. Most in the announced crowd of 62,103 stood in stunned silence and then began booing and whistling angrily, having witnessed Brazil’s first own goal in World Cup history.

But when they needed a moment of magic, the man whose image had been splashed across every newspaper and TV station in Brazil provided it. Chelsea midfielder Oscar fought through two challenges and found Neymar. When the striker turned for goal, moving the ball on to his left foot, he had one thing in mind. The contact was not pure but the shot was unerringly accurate, creeping in from 25 yards, glancing the right post on its way.

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 50 Games 32 Goals And now Brazils 8th highest top scorer..

And he’s just 22 years old

Neymar pressed “rb” + “b” on that shot. Smart move. #fifa #fineseshot #BRAvsCRO

His second, 19 minutes before the end, was altogether more controversial. Dejan Lovren was judged to have fouled Fred in the box. Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura pointed to the spot, despite replays showing little contact had been made. Neymar converted, the ball deflecting in off the out-stretched arm of goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa, to spark scenes of celebration. article-2656644-1EB7355200000578-114_634x624

Lol Neymar didn’t have the bottle to try an Abdoun #pussy #AbdounTheGreat #NottinghamForestJoke

Oscar put a gloss on the final score with a tremendous late goal that his man-of-the-match performance warranted. With Croatia committed upfield, he burst forward and toe-poked in from 25 yards, taking Pletikosa by surprise with a low drive.

It ensured a 10th consecutive win for Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side but Brazil demonstrated flaws and fragilities. They did not play with the fluency or flamboyance that saw them swat aside Spain to win the Confederations Cup so emphatically last year. I still stand by my prediction that both these two sides will progress to the next round, but Brazil are going to have to play much better if they want to win the World Cup.

Man of the Match

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The Referee – Great influence in helping Brazil claim victory and excellent spray paint work! 10/10

Opening Ceremony review

The World Cup Opening Ceremony was held in Sao Paulo at the 68,000-seat New Corinthians Stadium. Nearly half the world’s population, well over three billion spectators, is expected to watch soccer’s premier event and get a glimpse of the country that in two years will host the Summer Olympics.

But as play begins, it still isn’t clear which Brazil we’ll see. Will it be the irreverent nation known for its festive, free-wheeling spirit? Or the country that for the past year has been a hotbed of fury over poor public services, discontent over a political system widely viewed as corrupt and deep anger over the $11.5 billion US spent on hosting the World Cup? By mid-morning, it looked like it would be both.

300 people gathered outside the ground to protest and were duly teargassed and shot with rubber bullets for their trouble. Meanwhile. inside the stadium, Fifa held a conference explaining how their only aim in their humble life was to establish world peace. One journalist asked with a commendably straight face if they expected to win the Nobel peace prize. Fifa solemnly considered the possibility. “This goes beyond football and beyond Fifa,” intoned one of the Fifabots.

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Perhaps it’s best to think of the opening ceremony as the fluffer for the World Cup, and certainly some was needed in São Paulo this week which has been looking, as has been widely reported, albeit in possibly different terms, decidedly unfluffed.

So At 7pm, after I’d washed my pots, I tuned into ITV for the coverage of the opening ceremony. This is roughly how it went and my thought process.

  • Ian Wright is walking round the beach. Of course he is. Why not? He’s going to give us his inimitable guide to Rio. There’s Sugar Loaf Mountain. It’s called Sugar Loaf Mountain because … Do you know why it’s called Sugar Loaf Mountain, Lozza?” Lozza, the cameraman, doesn’t know. Wrighty is too excited. He lets us know he’s mates with Barry Manilow. Then he hugs a German surfer.
  • Our first look at the stadium. It’s not full but a huge roar has just gone up. There are dancers around the side of the pitch and, in the middle, a giant, colourful LED ball that’s flashing welcome messages in various languages. I’m slightly worried that ball is going to become sentient and go on a spree, before assuming world domination. Bloody Fifa. You can’t trust them.
  • Let the dancing begin! Some people dressed as rain drops run past the camera. Now we’ve got people dressed as trees. It’s the Amazon, see. The trees are standing still and weird swamp people are moving round them. Then some flowers. One of the flowers can’t stop grinning when the camera catches her/it. Not very professional, but can you blame her? World Cup!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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If the orb sees Sepp Blatter, will it

  • a) shoot a laser beam at him
  • b) explode
  • c) Say “Father?
  • We’re into the second section – apparently this will reflect the diversity of the people of Brazil. More dancing. The music’s picking up now and so’s the pace. We’ve got a jazzy vibe going on now and my foot’s starting to twitch. “I’m disappointed that Andy Townsend isn’t offering his insight on this opening ceremony,” says John Galt. “That’s a canoe, Clive. That’s a giant flashing ball, Clive. That man’s dressed like a tree, Clive!”
  • Here’s the football section. A small boy dressed as a referee blows a whistle and suddenly a load of dancers dressed as footballs burst into view. They jump around a bit, then sit down, allowing boys and girls from local football clubs to come on and show off their skills. The orb is now glowing like the official ball of the World Cup.
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  • The orb is opening! Thankfully it doesn’t shoot out a laser beam or reveal Sepp Blatter. Instead it’s a sequinned Claudia Leitte, singer of the official anthem. She’s on her own for a while and then, out of nowhere, J-Lo and a grown man called Pitbull rise up from underneath orb to join her. They’re going to prance around on a stage for a bit now. As many have pointed out, the lead singers of the anthem this year, Pitbull and Jennifer Lopez, seem to have been chosen in the spirit of this kind of international unity, seeing as neither are actually Brazilian: Pitbull was born in the US to Cuban parents and Lopez, albeit originally From The Block, is also American with Puerto Rican parents. But we’ll get back to that.

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Pitbull’s LOVE HANDLES spilling out.

  • Thank God that’s over. I never thought I’d be relieved to see Adrian Chiles face!

Some memorable tweets:

  • This is like something the staff of Argos would knock together to celebrate a new store opening.
  • £9 million on the opening ceremony. £2.50 on the speaker system.
  • #OpeningCeremony or Acid trip?! Can’t work out which.
  • For god sake Simon Cowell, press your bloody buzzer
  • Tbh you can’t really top the Queen jumping out of a helicopter
  • If I was Brazilian I would be protesting right now. That was terrible. #OpeningCeremony#WorldCup2014

 

20 World Cup facts!

  1. The FIFA World Cup is the ‘world’s most widely viewed sporting event,’ which takes place every four years
  1. The World Cup is organised by the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA)
  1. 32 teams participate in the World Cup
  1. 76 nations have played in at least one World Cup
  1. Uruguay won the first World Cup in 1930
  1. Eight national teams have won the World Cup, and they have added stars to their badges, with each star representing a World Cup victory. They include: Uruguay, Italy, Brazil, England, Germany, Argentina, France and Spain
  1. 20 of the 736 players players present in Brazil have been champions previously. 16 Spaniards and 4 Italians.
  1. The 1970 World Cup hosted by Mexico was the first to be televised in colour
  1. Ronaldo de Lima of Brazil is the highest all-time goal scorer with 15 goals in three World Cup appearances..
  2. The oldest footballer to score in a World Cup match was Roger Milla of Cameroon at the age of 42 years, 39 days against Russia in USA ’94. Russia won by a 6-1 margin.
  3. The first African to score at the World Cup was Abdulrahman Fawzi of Egypt in 1934.
  4. With five titles, Brazil are the most successful World Cup team and also the only nation to have played in every World Cup (19) to date.
  5. Italy (1934 and 1938) and Brazil (1958 and 1962) are the only nations to have won consecutive titles.
  6. West Germany (1982–1990) and Brazil (1994–2002) are the only nations to appear in three consecutive World Cup finals
  7. Germany have made the most top-four finishes, with 12, while sharing the record of most top-two finishes with Brazil, with seven.
  8. The Adidas Golden Ball award is presented to the most outstanding player at each World Cup finals, with a list generated by the FIFA technical committee and the winner voted on by members of the media – 2010 Winner: Diego Forlan (Uruguay).
  9. The Adidas Golden Shoe award is presented to the top goal scorer at every World Cup finals – 2010 Winner: Thomas Müller (Germany)
  10. Africa hosted the FIFA World Cup for the first time in 2010 in South Africa.
  11. 3.2 billion people worldwide watched the 2010 World Cup – 46.4% of the world
  12. Brazil will host the 20th edition from June 12-July 13 2014.

Group A Preview, Brazil, Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon.

The host country’s group, by default, will always be the focus, especially when its a nation such as Brazil.

It’s easy to forget that the five-time winners will not be the only ones hoping to qualify from Group A. Croatia, Mexcio and Cameroon, the battle for second place – it would be borderline sacrilegious to even assume that Brazil will not take the top spot – will have a close fight for the second spot in the group. Mexico, while slightly light on talent in comparison to Croatia, would take some beating given their knowledge and experience of the environment and climate. World rankings will count for nothing when bodily fluids are not replenished adequately, hindering performance.

MATCH NO. FIXTURE DATE TIME LOCATION
1 Brazil v. Croatia Jun 13 21:00 Arena Corinthians, Sau Paulo
2 Mexico v. Cameroon Jun 13 17:00 Estadio das Dunas, Natal
17 Brazil v. Mexico Jun 18 20:00 Estadio Castelao, Fortaleza
18 Cameroon v. Croatia Jun 18 23:00 Arena Amazonia, Manaus
33 Croatia v. Mexico Jun 24 21:00 Arena Pernambuco, Recife
34 Cameroon v. Brazil Jun 24 21:00 Estadio Nacional, Brasilia

Of the six group games, four will be played on the east coast in Fortaleza, Natal, Recife and Sau Paulo. Brazil’s final group game will be staged in the capital, Brasilia, while Cameroon will play Croatia in the fantastically-named Arena Amazonia in Manaus.

Stadium Guide

Arena Amazonia, Manaus.

STADIUM (CITY) CAPACITY* ALTITUDE
Arena Corinthians (Sau Paulo) 61,606 792 m
Estadio das Dunas (Natal) 38,958 45 m
Estadio Castelao (Fortaleza) 60,348 Sea-level
Arena Amazonia (Manaus) 39,118 72 m
Arena Pernambuco (Recife) 42,583 Sea-level
Estadio Nacional (Brasilia) 69.432 1,172 m

The warm and humid climate of Brazil has led to European countries employing rather elaborate methods in an attempt to prepare themselves for what lies in store. Manaus, the dreaded Amazonian city, fortunately hosts just a single match for the teams of Group A. However, there will be no lack of climate-related adversity, as Natal, Recife and Fortaleza are all worthy enough to test any athlete’s endurance levels.

Natal has average humidity levels of around 90% in June, rarely falliing below 60%. Recife performs pretty well too when it comes to precipitation – with June and July being the two wettest months – with the city receiving more than 200 days of rainfall on average every year. Fortaleza provides no relief either, with relative humidity ranging from 58% to 94% in June. The capital city of Brasilia and Sau Paulo should be better though, and should provide a welcome respite to the teams.

THE TEAMS

Brazil

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It will be a scandal, bigger than the organising of the World Cup itself, if Brazil fail to win not just the group, but the tournament.

An impressive performance in the 2013 Confederations Cup, where they thumped powerhouse Spain 3-0 in the final, has put a lot of pressure on this young team and the nation expects nothing less than a sixth trophy.
What makes Brazil the favourites is their advantage of playing at home. Qualifying automatically, their form is relatively less known than the other teams taking part.

Their goalkeepers are nothing to shout about, and their forwards, with the exception of Neymar, do not play at the highest competitve level, by which I mean the toughest European leagues. But they have home advantage, and not playing in a top European league may be alright given that no European nation has ever won a World Cup in South America.

Key Player – Neymar

FIFA ranking (as on June 5) – 3

For more information, read Brazil Team Preview.

 

Croatia

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Let’s face it- Croatia are not the best team in the world. In fact, they are 18th. But who wouldn’t want Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic in their mid-field?

After gaining admission into Fifa and Uefa in 1993, Croatia made their first World Cup appearance in 1998, where they claimed a surprise third-place finish as Davor Suker won the Golden Boot. However, the team has not reached the knockout stage in the competition since then. Failure to qualify for the 2010 World Cup was the lowest point for Croatia but the Vatreni are back with a very talented squad.

The Blazers will be looking to forget an overall disappointing performance in the qualifiers in which they lost twice to Scotland, but a balanced team with some extremely talented players will give hope to Croatian fans.

The likes of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic will definitely be an uphill task for opponents to counter. The sound technical abilities of these three midfield maestros and the presence of star striker Mario Mandzukic, who is a proven goalscorer, will be enough to make the best of defences uneasy. He got sent off in the second leg of the play-off game against Iceland and will be missed against Brazil, as will be Niko Kranjcar, who has been ruled out of the World Cup due to a hamstring injury.

FIFA ranking (as on Jun 5) – 18

Key Player – Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic will be very important but I believe Mario Mandzukic will prove to be the difference.

For more information, read Croatia Team Preview.

Mexico

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The magic number for Mexico proved to be 51 in qualifying. No, they did not end up with 51 points in qualifying – a rather impossible number to achieve. Mexico, in fact, used 51 personnel during qualifying – 47 players and 4 (four) coaches

Having finished fourth behind the US, Costa Rica and Honduras in qualifying, Mexico thumped New Zealand in the play-offs, with striker Oribe Peralta contributing five goals in the 9-3 aggregate hammering.

It was only two years ago that Mexico won the gold medal at the London Olympics, with Peralta scoring two as the Mexicans beat Brazil 2-1 in the final match. But two years is a long time in football. Playing with a 5-3-2 formation, coach Miguel Herrera will be hoping his back-line stands up to the scrutiny and the examination, with Peralta responsible for doing the damage up front. All eyes will be on Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez, who will be looking to silence his critics as his poor form has restricted his playing time in club football. What we can say for sure about Chicharito is his goalscoring ability and killer instincts. Being technically sound and possessing the quick-fire agility to strafe past defenders effortlessly has made Hernandez a guaranteed starter for his country.

Mexico.

FIFA ranking (as on Jun 5) – 20

Key Player – Oribe Peralta

For more information, read Mexico Team Preview.

Cameroon

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Can Eto’o be the 21st century Roger Milla? Can the Indomitable Lions get a point in the group stage and improve on their 2010 performance? No. And No.

After defeating Tunisia in the playoffs and losing just one match to Libya throughout the qualification, Cameroon head to the World Cup having topped their group. From the days of Roger Milla (42), who became the oldest player in history of the tournament to score a goal, to the captaincy of talisman Samuel Eto’o, Cameroon have only achieved a quarter-final finish in 1990.

Considered one of the greatest African nations in the playing field, their recent history has not been up to the standards of the Milla era, as they failed to progress from their group in 1998, 2002 and 2010. But Volker Finke’s men are determined to make amends as the physically intimidating team will be looking to ruthlessly attack their way into the knockout stages.

The climate of Brazil will also make this team of underachievers a bigger threat than their European rivals, but recent poor form has damaged the credibility of Cameroon as a top contender. Alex Song, Jeanll Makoun and Eto’o are the big names that will be looking to put their experience to work.

Cameroon did not qualify for the last two editions of the African Cup of Nations, lost all three group games in South Africa, had their national football federation suspended by FIFA in July 2013 due to “government interference”, and saw their best player and captain accuse his team-mates of conspiring to ensure that the ball was not passed to him during a World Cup qualifier.

FIFA ranking (as on Jun 5) – 56

Key Player – Samuel Eto’o

For more information, read Cameroon Team Preview.

Summary

Brazil will definitely be favourites to go through to the knockout stage with the home crowd advantage and a stellar squad. The lack of performances and depth in the squad of Cameroon and Mexico can prove to be vital as Eto’o and Hernandez will face a mammoth task against their well-equipped opponents. Croatia will be disappointed if they do not finish second as they have some star names in the field to guide them through. But we can definitely expect some fireworks and upsets as all four teams are experienced enough to qualify.

Key Fixture

The outcome of the match between Croatia and Mexico may very well decide the runner-up to Brazil unless Cameroon plan to spoil the party. The two will play their match in the port city of Recife, guaranteeing high humidity. However, the cool ocean breeze and the cloudy weather may bring some relief. On the pitch, we can expect some attacking football laced with more than a tinge of caution.

Croatia’s mid-field will never be more important, and the control of Modric and Rakitic will be essential if they wish to progress. Mexico, on the other hand, will be confident: they have made it the Round of 16 in each of the last five World Cups.

Prediction!

Group A
Country Games Played Points Goal Difference
Brazil 3 9 9
Croatia 3 6 0
Mexico 3 6 -2
Cameroon 3 0 -6

 

Brazil Team Preview

The players

Jefferson goalkeeper, Botafogo

Dani Alves defender, Barcelona

Thiago Silva (captain) defender, Paris Saint-Germain

David Luiz defender, Chelsea

Fernandinho midfielder, Manchester City

Marcelo defender, Real Madrid

Hulk forward, Zenit Saint Petersburg

Paulinho midfielder, Tottenham Hotspur

Fred forward, Fluminense

10 Neymar forward, Barcelona

11 Oscar midfielder, Chelsea

12 Júlio César goalkeeper, Toronto

13 Dante defender, Bayern Munich

14 Maxwell defender, Paris Saint-Germain

15 Henrique defender, Napoli

16 Ramires midfielder, Chelsea

17 Luiz Gustavo midfielder, Wolfsburg

18 Hernanes midfielder, Internazionale

19 Willian midfielder, Chelsea

20 Bernard midfielder, Shakhtar Donetsk

21  forward, Atlético Mineiro

22 Victor goalkeeper, Atlético Mineiro

23 Maicon defender, Roma

Star man

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Neymar, a genuinely classy instinctive creative attacker, and a player who carries on his shoulders a horrible pressure not just as Brazil’s most effective attacker by some distance, but as sole keeper of the flame of the old malandro spirit. Really Brazil’s strength lies in a mobile, technically adept midfield and classy ball-playing defence. But it will still be Neymar in extreme close up when the tournament begins, a player under more pressure than any other at any previous World Cup not just to win games, but to win games the right way too.

Most likely to be sent home in disgrace
Being both dirty and an inveterate diver, Dani Alves is a true master of football’s darker arts.

The coach

Big, loveable, flinty-eyed, 65-year-old Phil was something of a port in a storm in 2012 for a Brazilian FA spooked by the raggedness of its team under Mano Menezes and the impending all-or-nothing bid to win La Hexa on home soil. Scolari has duly remodelled along pragmatic lines, defeating Spain in the final of the Confederations Cup, performing his usual tough guy histrionics on the touchline, enforcing the usual pre-tournament sex ban among his players (“usually normal sex is done in a balanced way but some like to perform acrobatics. We will put limits and survey the players”) and generally raised the spirits. Likely to be the only coach at the tournament with his own travelling shrine of porcelain saints.

Grudge match

The obvious one: Argentina, the battle of the South Americas between two nations who share an 800-mile border, the two best World Cup players of all time and a continuing sense of vitriol. The less obvious ones: the rest of South America, Italy (fond foes) and, maybe, somewhere near the back of the queue, England.

Holed up

Brazil have always been the masters of fine-point preparations, kings of sport science and training camps. The Brazilian FA training centre at Granja Comary in Rio State is a verdant, splendidly isolated luxury compound that looks like it might make a good place to train a race of teenage superhero warriors or a squadron of X-men.

How they qualified
Apparently there’s some football tournament or something going on in Brazil.

World Cup High
Winners in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002, but it is the 1970 triumph that inspires the most impassioned tributes.

World Cup low
The sad spectacle of an unwell Ronaldo and his team being rolled over 3-0 by France in the 1998 final.

Familiar faces
Julio Cesar (QPR), David Luiz (Chelsea), Oscar (Chelsea), Ramires (Chelsea), Paulinho (Spurs), Willian (Chelsea), Fernandinho (Manchester City)

Title odds
7/2 fav

The stereotype is …
Samba football, silky skills,dreamy, free-flowing, barefoot fantasy of kicks set to a Sérgio Mendes soundtrack,  genius all over the pitch, playing the game as it should be played.

The reality is …
A physical presence in midfield, a ball-playing back four that’s a bit iffy, high-energy pressing and Neymar scoring the goals. Scolari has tended to go for the fashionable 4-2-3-1, with traditional overlapping full-backs in Dani Alves and Marcelo. Oscar, Hulk and Neymar will support either Fred or Jô, who sound like a pair of plasterers, but who will attempt to carry on a glorious World Cup centre-forward lineage.

What they’re known for
Football 45 per cent
Samba 25 per cent
Thonged lovelies 20 per cent
Civil unrest 10 per cent

How Google translates the national anthem
In thy bosom, O freedom, Our chest defy death itself.
Our forests have more life. Our life in your more love sinus.

Duration
A busy, frothy 1min 58sec.

How to dress like their fans

dt.common.streams.StreamServer
Better get in that gym first. Bikinis for the ladies. Washboard stomachs for the gents. Fake Tan.

Commentator’s go-to stat
Brazil covers three time zones. No doubt failure to acclimatise to jet lag will be offered as a mitigating factor in England’s disappointing performance.