On the of 12th June 2014, millions of people around the world will be glued to their TV sets as the 2014 FIFA World Cup – the biggest international tournament kicks off at Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Tournament hosts Brazil play Croatia in the opening fixture of what could be and should be yet another thrilling world cup.
Brazil who are one of the tournament favourites will be looking forward to a comfortable win in front of their home crowd but Croatia are no pushovers. The Croatians have some big names in their ranks and the team is more than capable of causing a huge upset.
Brazil is tough team to beat on their home turf and it was quite evident after their crushing victory over defending European and World champions Spain in the final of the Confederations Cup last year.
Squads and Team news
Brazil have come into the tournament with a squad very similar to the one that played in the Confederations Cup. All players from the starting eleven in the final against Spain are part of the squad.
Brazil were hit with a small injury scare prior to the tournament after star player Neymar was injured during their friendly match against Serbia. Neymar’s participation is still a question mark and it will be interesting to see if Scolari will play him against Croatia or opt to give the Barcelona man enough time to recover and be fit and ready for the remaining matches.
Their coach Scolari had to face a personal tragedy as his nephew was killed in a crash, but he has said that working with these group of players has given him strenght to overcome sadness.
If Neymar is available for selection then Scolari is expected to name the same eleven who started the Confederations Cup final – Julio Cesar, Dani Alves, David Luiz, Thiago Silva, Marcelo, Luis Gustavo, Paulinho, Oscar, Neymar, Hulk and Fred.
The Brazilian defense will be hard to penetrate with captain - Thiago Silva commanding them. While on the attacking front they will be a huge threat through the wings with Neymar and Hulk on either side and they will be well supported by two of the best attacking full backs today – Dani Alves and Marcelo.
Brazil also have players like Willian, Bernard, Hernanes and many more who can come off the bench and change the game.
The current Brazilian team do not boast so many big names like the one that won the World Cup in 2002, but work well together as a team like a well-oiled machine and will be impossible to stop on their day.
The Croatians may be considered as tournament outsiders, but it would be foolish to write them off. They are led by Darijo Srna who is one of the most underrated but best right backs today. He will be commanding a back line comprising of Southampton star Dejan Lovren who is coming from a brilliant season with his club.
Former Spurs defender Vedran Corluka is expected to partner Lovren at the heart of the defense. The Croatians will be without veteran Josip Simunic, who was suspended by FIFA for his controversial behavior following the playoff win against Iceland.
Midfield might be one area of the pitch where the Croatians have a slight upper hand over Brazil. The midfield comprises of two players who won European titles this season with their clubs and were arguably the best midfielders in La Liga i.e. Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.
Modric and Rakitic are both extremely talented mid fielders who can pick out perfect passes and trouble the opposition. Both these players have an eye for goal and can unleash their trademark ferocious shots from outside the box if they are not closed down properly. If Brazil can manage to somehow stop these two players then the Croatian attack will be crippled.
Mateo Kovacic of Internazionale will also be a player to watch out from Croatia and the World Cup might be the youngster’s chance to announce himself to the world. Ivan Perisic of Wolfsburg will be key to providing good crosses to the tall and strong strikers Croatian possess.
Croatia will be without Mario Mandzukic who is suspended for the game after getting a red card in the play-off match against Iceland. The striker will be one of Nikica Jelavic, Eduardo or the experienced Ivica Olic in the absence of the Bayern Munich star.
Both teams come into the match in very good form.
Brazil won both their friendlies prior to the tournament without conceding a goal. They defeated Panama 4-0 with Neymar, Alves, Hulk and Willian scoring a goal each. They defeated a tough Serbian side through a single goal scored by Fred in the final match before the tournament.
Croatia on the hand played Mali in one game and defeated them 2-1 courtesy of a brace from Perisic. They defeated Australia in the final warm up game thanks to the only goal of the match by Jelavic.
But playing in a World Cup is very different to a friendly match, especially when your opponent is the host nation. There is the pressure of the tournament and the very intimidating crowd to deal with.
The match will be a close affair and Brazil will find it very difficult to score freely past a good Croatian defense. The same applies for Croatia and they will be hoping that their midfield maestros can pick out a perfect pass to feed their players if and when a small and rare defensive lapse occurs.
The hosts might nick it in the end and I am predicting a 2-1 score line.
See our earlier articles on the world cup opener