Hosts to kick off World Cup 2014 with a narrow victory.
Brazil probably couldn’t believe their luck when the draw for the group stages of this year’s finals was made. They’ll face Mexico, who only just qualified from the traditionally weak CONCACAF region, and Cameroon, arguably the weakest of this year’s crop from Africa, and start off against Croatia.
Their first opponents got lucky in the UEFA play-offs, drawing Iceland, but are facing a baptism of fire in the finals in the Arena de Sao Paulo.
As hosts, Brazil didn’t have to qualify for the finals but showed what they are capable of when winning all five matches in last year’s Confederations Cup.
Defeating Spain 3-0 was no mean feat and they also kept clean sheets against the Mexicans and Japan. Uruguay and Italy did breech the Brazilians’ defence but were also beaten and Luiz Felipe Scolari’s team look worthy tournament favourites having won most of their friendlies since that Confederation Cup success.
There are three Chelsea players in the Brazil squad and both Oscar and David Luiz are regular starters. The former will play off lone striker Fred alongside Barcelona’s Neymar and Zenit St Petersburg’s Hulk if recent evidence can be believed, while the latter will be at the heart of his team’s defence.
How many teams will get to test the Brazilian back four is debatable but that is definitely their Achilles’ heel and first-choice goalkeeper Julio Cesar has had a traumatic couple of years and now plies his trade in the MLS.
Croatia have some technically gifted players including Real Madrid’s Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mario Mandzukic, Eduardo and Ivica Olic but they have had problems scoring goals lately.
The fact that they lost to Scotland in qualifying suggests that Niko Kovac’s team is going to struggle to keep the hosts at arm’s length, although World Cup curtain-raisers are traditionally tight affairs with both teams anxious to avoid a losing start.
That said, this Brazil side doesn’t have the word cagey in its vocabulary and they have started most recent games on the front foot. Brazil won the only previous World Cup meeting between the sides in 2006, but only 1-0. The teams drew their only other meeting a week earlier.
This should be a victory for Brazil (3/10) but don’t expect an avalanche of goals. The hosts to be winning at half time and full time is 8/11.
The match kicks off at 9pm UK time on Thursday, June 12th in the Arena de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo.
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