In a little less than 29 hours from now, Brazil and Croatia will come to grips in the opening match of the 2014 World Cup at the Arena de Sao Paulo. Already saddled with massive expectations, Brazil will be under pressure from the first minute this summer to win their record sixth World Cup title, this time in front of their home supporters.
Brazil have hosted once before, in 1950, but a loss to South American rivals Uruguay in the final still leaves a bitter taste in their mouth to this day. The Selecao are looking to set the record straight.
In their first opponent Croatia, Brazil will face a hard working and creative side that cannot and should not be underestimated. Regardless of the result after 90minutes tomorrow, it will surely be a proper first match befitting of the beautiful game. Here is our preview and predictions.
Projected starting XI’s
Brazil – Cesar; Marcelo, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Dani Alves; Fernandinho, Paulinho; Neymar, Oscar, Hulk; Fred
Croatia – Pletikosa; Pranjic, Schildenfeld, Lovren, Srna; Rakitic, Modrid, Kovacic; Rebic, Mandzukic, Perisic
Key’s for Brazil:
- Realizing that they do not have to go through Neymar each time they press forward into the final third. Oscar is the one that pulls the strings, so let Neymar play off him.
- While Alves and Marcelo are key going forward, both must realize how quickly Croatia can counter. They must be sure to keep positional awareness.
- Trying to get Croatia in yellow card trouble will force them to concede further ground, which will play into Brazil’s hands in the long term.
Key’s for Croatia:
- Winning the midfield battle. If Rakitic and Modric are allowed to dictate terms, Croatia’s chances of getting a result are considerably increased.
- Do not get tempted into diving in on Neymar. He will always look for a foul, even if he can go past you, so Croatia must avoid foul trouble.
- Exploit space behind the defense left by Brazil’s wing backs. Also noting that David Luiz likes to get involved, which gives Mandzukic room in the final third.
- Neymar v Dario Srna – Srna has loads of experience in Europe, but he will be up against it with Neymar. The match could be won and lost here.
- Luka Modric v Paulinho – Modric is the orchestra conductor for Croatia, it will be up to Paulinho to keep him quiet and hope that Rakitic can also be held in check.
- Thiago Silva v Mario Mandzukic – With David Luiz loving to get forward in the attack despite being at center back, Silva must be sure to keep Mandzukic in check
Drew - I am going with 2-1 to Brazil. It’ll be a back and forth match, with counter attacking displays from both sides. But Brazil just have that little something extra over Croatia, despite them being a formidable side. Even if Neymar is kept quiet, I cannot see Croatia silencing Oscar, Willian and Hulk all match as well.
Luke – I think that Brazil should have enough to win, although a draw wouldn’t totally surprise me either. So I am going to say 2-1 to the hosts. Brazil’s defense is their weak spot, but going forward they’ll be too strong for a stubborn Croatia.
Young – It feels like the World Cup schedulers purposely fixed this tournament to make the host nation look great. Once it kicks off, Brazil will showcase their skills as they pull off a convincing win. Croatia are a good team and will put up a tough fight but they lack talent in all areas to beat Brazil. I will say 3-1 Brazil, and their victory will set the tone throughout the tournament; the Selecao can live up to the hype and they are truly capable of winning it all. It’ll be the spectacular opener people have wanted to see.
**Be sure to join us for our LiveBlog coverage of Brazil v Croatia tomorrow starting at 3:30pm EST/12:30pm PST/8:30pm GMT – looking forward to seeing you all there!**