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.
Rather fittingly, Brazil will kick off the tournament against Croatia in the nation's largest city, Sao Paulo.
|Match No.||Fixture||Date||Time (IST)||Location|
|1||Brazil v. Croatia||Jun 13||01:30||Arena Corinthians, Sau Paulo|
|2||Mexico v. Cameroon||Jun 13||21:30||Estadio das Dunas, Natal|
|17||Brazil v. Mexico||Jun 18||00:30||Estadio Castelao, Fortaleza|
|18||Cameroon v. Croatia||Jun 18||03:30||Arena Amazonia, Manaus|
|33||Croatia v. Mexico||Jun 24||01:30||Arena Pernambuco, Recife|
|34||Cameroon v. Brazil||Jun 24||01:30||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.
|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|
*capacity as per FIFA website.
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.
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.
Deprived of the need to qualify given their status as hosts, Brazil have a strange squad. 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.
Brazil won the last of their five World Cups in 2002, after which the Spaniards have become footballing royalty. But one must remember the 2013 Confederations Cup, where the hosts beat Spain 3-0. Home advantage is never more important as it is in the World Cup.
Key Player – Thiago Silva
FIFA ranking (as on June 5) – 3
For more information, read Brazil Team Preview.
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?
A topsy-turvy qualifying campaign saw Croatia gain 16 points from the first six games, then lose twice to Scotland as they drew one and lost three of their final four qualifying fixtures. But a relatively simple play-off match against Iceland meant they would be going to Brazil.
Of course, the small matter of Igor Stimac being sacked as coach after the loss to Scotland in the last game of qualifying meant that former player Niko Kovac became the boss. Kovac duly secured qualification. Mario Mandzukic 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.
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.
FIFA ranking (as on Jun 5) – 20
Key Player – Oribe Peralta
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.
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. Unless the Ghanian witch-doctor responsible for making Cristiano Ronaldo worry provides some help, Cameroon should come back with the wooden spoon and not trouble the score-keepers,
FIFA ranking (as on Jun 5) – 56
Key Player – Samuel Eto’o
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.
A win for either of the two should mean second place for the victor. A draw, however, could lead to matters being decided by goal difference. Or by the number of goals scored in the group stage. Or by the winner of the Croatia-Mexico game (a draw, in this hypothetical case). And should these criteria prove to be insufficient, the two will be separated by one truly impartial quality which FIFA so vehemently preach: luck.
Yes, the second place may very well be decided by a drawing of lots by the FIFA Organising Committee, meaning that Cameroon could still qualify for the Round of 16 given FIFA’s fantastic abilities and powers.
Unfortunately, Group A probably isn’t the closest group when it comes to competing for the first place, which Brazil could confirm by the end of their second match against Mexico should other results go their way. However, second place should be up for grabs, although Cameroon could find themselves lagging behind.
Brazil v. Croatia – 3:1
Opening night, big game, tremendous pressure, David Luiz in defence – Croatia must score. But they will miss Mario Mandzukic.
Mexico v. Cameroon – 2:1
With Samuel Eto’o in the squad, you wouldn’t bet against Cameroon scoring. But Mexico may well be too much to handle in familiar conditions.
Brazil v. Mexico – 3:0
Would probably be more difficult than the score-line suggests.
Cameroon v. Croatia – 1:2
The return of Mandzukic from suspension will be a boost, although he may not score.
Croatia v. Mexico – 1:0
Probably the most important game of the group, therefore, guaranteed to be the most boring.
Cameroon v. Brazil – 0:4
Top place in group secured, top class performance. An injury scare maybe?
Now that I have made myself available for ridicule once the group stage is completed, here is the table to summarise my potential incompetency.
|Country||Games Played||Points||Goal Difference|
To read other Group Previews, click here: FIFA World Cup Group Previews