Archive for June 11th, 2014

One more day until the 2014 World Cup kicks off!

Host nation Brazil will be inaugurating their tournament against Croatia in the first Group A game, and Mexico and Cameroon will face off the next day.


Within this group, few would bet against Brazil coming out on top, and indeed it seems likely that they will do so with the maximum haul of nine points. O Seleção may no longer be the paramount force in world football – their 1982 squad is arguably the best team to not have won the Cup – but it would be a foolhardy team that underestimated them.

While the mantle of “world’s best player” is a subjective one, and passes swiftly from one player to another, it’s safe to say that Barcelona striker Neymar is one of the élite, a worthy successor to stars such as Rivaldo, Romario and Ronaldinho. The 22-year-old isn’t playing on his own, though; atypically for a Brazil squad, this one seems to have been built from the back, with the safe hands of Julio Cesar in goal, solid defenders including Thiago Silva and David Luiz, flying fullbacks Marcelo and Dani Alves, and midfield maestro Oscar linking up play and providing the distribution channel for Neymar and the rest of the strike force.

The question is, though, who will fare best among the other Group A teams? On their day, any of the three could beat any other, and as such the teams’ fate may be determined in part by who loses to Brazil by the smallest margin.


Croatia have been dangerous for some time, as evidenced by Davor Šuker taking home the Golden Boot for the most goals scored in the 1998 tournament. Though Šuker has hung up his boots, Mario Mandžukić is proving to be quite able to strike terror in the hearts of opposing defences himself. In the national side, the Bayern Munich man is ably assisted by tricky Real Madrid playmaker Luka Modrić. While Croatia are by no means a two-man side, these two alone are enough to cause problems for a back line, and should not be written off.

Trivia: Croatia striker Eduardo da Silva is Brazilian by birth, and has pledged to sing both anthems ahead of tomorrow’s match. Don’t expect him to go easy on Brazil, though – Eduardo is two goals away from surpassing Šuker as Croatia’s all-time top goalscorer, and will be looking to break that record at this tournament.


Mexico are the puzzle of Group A – though they took Olympic gold two years ago (beating Brazil in the final), El Tri came within a hair’s breadth of failing to qualify for the World Cup at all, going through four coaches in six weeks. It appeared as though Panama would qualify in their stead, until a pair of late defensive slip-ups allowed the USA to beat Panama 2-1 and effectively hand Mexico a berth at the World Cup.

This story would suggest a team short on confidence and potentially easy to overcome, but when the strike partnership of Oribe Peralta and Javier Hernandez hits its stride, there is definite danger. Opposing teams will also need to watch their right side for winger Andres Guardado, who is a master at finding space from which to deliver a cross.


Last but not least is the threat posed by Cameroon. The Indomitable Lions have a short but eventful history at the World Cup, having defeated defending champions Argentina in their opening game of the 1990 Cup, having the oldest player ever to score a World Cup goal (Roger Milla in 1994, at age 42), and racking up the highest count of red and yellow cards per game in 1998. Oddities have surrounded the team at other international tournaments since, including controversy over unconventional kits and the tragic on-pitch heart attack of midfielder Marc-Vivien Foé.

This year’s team is largely dependent on the strength and work-rate of striker and captain Samuel Eto’o. The 33-year old might be thought of as past his prime, but while he has lost a little of his former pace, his goalscoring instincts are still extremely sharp, and if he receives good service from midfielders such as Alex Song, Stéphane Mbia and Jean Makoun, there may be a further surprise or two still up Cameroon’s sleeve.

I’m predicting Brazil for first place in the group, with near 100% confidence. Shading second place… let’s go with Croatia.

Predicted group standings:


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