One quick glance at the four teams in Group A and it would not take you long to figure out the outright favorites to top this. Brazil, buoyed by their home advantage, will be odds on betters’ choice to finish as the best from this group having been clubbed with Mexico, Croatia and Cameroon.
Apart from the A Seleção, the other teams have had to win their two-legged play-offs to secure their berth in the World Cup finals which effectively sums up the vast difference in the quality that there is between the hosts and their competitors in Group A. Mexico had to overcome the Kiwi challenge while Croatia, under new manager Niko Kovac, rode past Iceland to book their ticket in Brazil. Underdogs Cameroon’s road to qualification was not decided until the second leg of the play-off after they humbled the Tunisian side with a comprehensive 4-1 win at home.
Furthermore, Mexico had to rely on United States to beat Panama, overturning a 2-1 deficit with two goals coming in the stoppage time, to ensure they face the Kiwis in the play-off. The La Verde have had their share of problems having been forced to change their manager right before the crucial play-off as they appointed then recently victorious Club America coach Miguel Hereira. Croatia’s managerial woes were somewhat similar to that of their South American counterparts, as they appointed former international midfielder Niko Kovac to oversee their win against Iceland.
The Mexicans, however, will take heart from their impressive history against the hosts having triumphed over them in the very recently London Olympics in 2012. Although, Luis Felipe Scolari’s boys have an overwhelming record against the Mexicans in the World Cups, the latter have managed to spring a few surprises in crucial competitions viz. ’99 Confederations Cup, Concacaf Gold Cups in ’96 and ’05.
Cameroon, to be fair to them, would prove little of a contest to Mexico and Croatia yet could play a decisive role in which team finishes as the runners-up behind Brazil. If the African nation manages to hold either of them to a draw, it would mean a significant advantage for the other in qualifying for the knock-out stage.
Big Matches in the Group
Brazil vs Mexico
Brazil have won 22 times as compared to Mexico’s 10 when these two times have met while they have failed to produce a decisive result on 6 occasions. A lot is expected from this Brazil side who will be playing right in front of their home crowd with Scolari by the dugout, someone who had steered them to the quintessential footballing glory in 2002. Mexico on the other, will not be alien to the humid conditions either and would like to take a leaf out of their London Olympics victory in 2012. Brazil are still smarting from that loss and with the confidence riding high in the camp following their Confederations Cup win earlier last year, the young Samba boys will be looking to punish the Mexicans.
Mexico vs Croatia
With most pundits ruling out Cameroon from the race already, for obvious reasons, this match could turn out to be the most crucial in the context of deciding who progresses to the pre-quarter finals. The two have just met each other thrice with Croatia getting the better of El Tri on two occasions. The one thing, though, riding in Mexico’s favor is the experience that their coach Hereira brings along as opposed to the relatively inexperienced Kovac, who has never taken on a job as big as this. But the Croatian side has never been short on talent, Modric and Rakitic have had terrific seasons and could very well hold the trumps to their run in the tournament.
Players to Watch Out
Neymar Jr. – The Brazilian has not quite had the kind of season that everyone expected him to after his move to Barcelona. But, his performance for the Selecao has kept on improving with every game. Luis Scolari will once again be looking upto the youngster to carry the team forward and having already scored 30 goals internationally, he very well has it in him to do it.
Ivan Rakitic – The 26 year old midfielder was promoted as the club captain by Sevilla manager Unai Emery and he has done tremendously well in leading his team out this season. Rakitic’s performances not only ensured they qualify for Europa next season but also catapulted them to the final this season where they are due to meet Juventus.
Samuel Eto’o – The 33 year Chelsea forward has not had the best of seasons for his club but would like to make a mark in his international swansong. Cameroon are highly unlikely to finish any better than last in the group, but Eto’o will be determined to show his magic in the big stage for one last time.
Brazil – 9 points
Mexico – 6 points
Croatia – 3 points
Cameroon – 0 points
Read about the other groups here!