Teams – Brazil, Cameroon, Croatia, Mexico
Quick One Twos: A quick look at the group will tell any football fan that this group is all about the 2nd place. Barring a calamity, Brazil is certain to go the next round as table toppers of group A. That leaves Cameroon, Croatia and Mexico to fight it out for the 2nd place. And the prize for the team that finishes 2nd behind Brazil in group A – a game against either Spain or Netherlands! Oh wait, even the same fate is in store for Brazil – a round of 16 against their nemesis in the last World Cup or the current champions and one of the favourites.
Brazil – the hosts of this World Cup have generally been among the favourites and this time around its not different, in fact the scales might have tilted slightly in their favour because of home advantage. Brazil are also re-united with the manager under whom they won the World Cup last time – Big Phil (Luiz Felipe Scolari). After re-joining Brazilian national football team as manager, Big Phil has already led them to Confederations Cup glory, beating the fancied Spain in the final. The hopes of this Brazil teams rests on the young shoulders of Neymar, who undoubtedly is extremely gifted. But he is coming into this world cup on the back on an indifferent season with Barcelona and it needs to be seen whether his stint with Spanish giants also means that teams may know how to nullify his threat. In addition to Neymar, Brazil also have some other players who have played in some of the big clubs around Europe – Thiago Silva (PSG), Dante (Bayern Munich), David Luiz, Oscar, Willian and Ramires (Chelsea), Dani Alves (Barca), Marcelo (Real Madrid) to name a few. Their experiences of playing in Europe may help Brazil in the later stages of the tournament.
Cameroon are coming into the World Cup finals amid a lot of negativity surrounding their team – mainly arising from players standoff against Cameroon Football Federation which reached its pinnacle when their players refused to even board the flight to Brazil. Their star player undoubtedly is Samuel Eto’o and he is also their likely source of goals. The Indomitable Lions are most likely to exit at the group stages once again and may also become a team that is first to exit two consecutive World Cup finals at the group stages
Croatia may have a slight edge over the other two team in this group as far as the fight for 2nd place is concerned. In Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, they have a formidable midfield pair. Some might say that Mario Mandzukic is their star player but in my view it is Luka Modric. Arguably, there is no other player better than him in pulling the strings from the middle of the park. But it looks likely that their coach Niko Kovac may play Modric in slightly deeper role. Also, it needs to be noted that Mandzukic is suspended for the opening game of the World Cup against Brazil. The key thing for Croatia is to not get too disheartened if they lose to Brazil (which they are likely to) and keep in mind that it’s their matches against Cameroon and Mexico that hold the key.
Unlike the other two teams (sans Brazil of course) Mexico has a bit of history on their side, as they have been able to get to the round of 16 in their last 5 World Cups. Also they have the advantage of being familiar with the South American conditions unlike their European and African rivals in the group. But they are coming into the World Cup on the back of some inconsistent performance and fortuitous results going their way. Their most recognized star is Xavier ‘Chicharito’Hernandez who was adjudged the fastest player in last World Cup. But his star has declined so much that he is not even sure of a starting spot for Mexico.
Prediction: Brazil to go through to the next round as group winners followed by Croatia.