We’re officially kicking off our World Cup 2014 coverage! I have a lot planned for our coverage of the best sports tournament in the world, but we’re going to start with some group previews. Today, we’re tackling Group A, which includes the host nation Brazil, Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon. Let’s see what this group has to offer, and then I’ll decide who I think will move on to the next round.
National Anthem: Hino Nacional Brasileiro
Coach: Luiz Felipe Scolari
Best Showing at A World Cup: Champions in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002
If you follow international fútbol, then you know Brazil. This historic team has won the most World Cups in history, taking five overall. On top of that, Brazil has produced some of the most well known fútbol superstars of all time, like Pelé, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaká, Claudio Taffarel and Gérson (I’m not going to list them all). This country has always been a threat to win it all, and that certainly doesn’t change now that they’re hosting the whole damn tournament.
Enough about this history of the team though, because today’s team is pretty damn good too. As the host nation, they didn’t have to do anything to qualify for the tournament, which kind of has left them without a lot of competition over the last couple of years. That fact makes last year’s Confederations Cup win all the more important, as it’s the only real competition they have had. They hosted that tournament too, and won pretty handily, winning every game and crushing Spain 3-0 in the final.
The key guys, I would say, are center back Thiago Silva (the Captain), full back Dani Alves and striker Neymar. Alves, who plays for the famed Barcelona, recently made headlines by cleverly fighting back against racism by eating a banana that was thrown at him by a hostile crowd in Spain. He’s got power, and can be a game changer when he gets some room to work. Neymar, meanwhile, is the next big thing for Brazil. The 21-year old has been on the world radar since he was 17. When he was 19, Barcelona paid €50 for his services after he won South American Fútboler of the Year. Despite his young age, he already has 47 caps and 30 goals in his international career.
Brazil plays a strong game throughout, and their left side, which consists of Neymar and Marcelo, is potentially brilliant and usually sparks the entire offense. They struggle a bit with depth (not a whole lot at striker beyond Fred) and moving the ball through the middle of the field, but they’re still set up for a good run at the championship. I’d like to mention one last bit about this team–the Coach. Luiz Felipe Scolari is 65 years old, but he’s returning to the Seleçao as the last man to lead them to glory. He was the coach in Germany 2002, and he’s looking to bring another championship home… at home. Hopefully, for them, things end better than the last time the World Cup was in Brazil… the Maracanazo.
National Anthem: ‘Lijepa nasa domovino’ (Our Beautiful Homeland)
Coach: Niko Kovac
Best Showing at A World Cup Third place in 1998
Croatia qualified for the World Cup by finishing second in European qualifying Group A and beating Iceland in a playoff. If Mighty Ducks 2 taught me anything, it’s that Iceland and all of its people are the worst, so let’s all be glad those jerks didn’t make it in. Anyway, Croatia is led by coach Niko Kovac, who had a nice career as a player for Croatia, accuring 83 caps and even captaining the 2006 World Cup team. He’s fairly new to the position, however, as he was only hired in October after officials sacked the last coach on the heels of just sneaking into the cup.
Coatia has some strength up front, but the key guy on their team is definitely Luka Modric. Modric has played brilliantly for Real Madrid over the last four years, and Coach Kovac is tends to run the offense through him. That being said, the rest of Croatia’s front line is pretty strong too, with guys like Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic able to feed off of Modric very effectively. Croatia’s biggest weakness is defense, and their midfield isn’t exactly cracking either.
I think Croatia has a good chance to make it out of this group, but not much further.
National Anthem: Himno Nacional Mexicano
Coach: Miguel Herrera
Best Showing at A World Cup: Quarter-Finals in 1970 and 1986
Mexico looked all but doomed before the last few games of qualifying. They went through a 10 game stretch where they only won two, and only snuck into an inter-continental playoff against New Zealand because of their hated rivals, the United States. The US used two meaningless stoppage time goals to beat Panama on the last day of regular qualifying. Coach Miguel Herrera decided to not invite any internationally based players to the playoff, instead choosing to use only locally based Mexican players, including 7 from the Mexican league team he coaches. We all laughed, but the strategy worked, as Mexico dominated New Zealand, beating them 5-1 and then 4-2 in the home and home playoff to nab one of the last spots in the World Cup.
The key player for Mexico is not, as one would think, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. While Hernandez and Captain Rafael Marquez might be the most well known Mexican players, it is, in my humble opinion, Oribe Peralta. Peralta, who led the Liga MX in scoring last year, boasts speed, agility and very good inside-the-box instincts, and scored a combined 5 goals against New Zealand in the playoff. He has really been the hot hand for Mexico of late, and they’re going to need him if they want to get by Croatia and enter the next round.
Like Croatia, Mexico lacks defense, as guys like Marquez and Francisco Rodriguez are getting up there in age. Also, they really are lucky to even be in the World Cup still, all thanks to the good old U.S. of A. I don’t think Mexico can quite get out of this group. Apologies to my lovely girlfriend.
National Anthem: Chant de Ralliement (The Rallying Song)
Coach: Volker Finke
Best Showing in A World Cup: Quarter-Finals in 1990
Last time around, Cameroon was literally the first nation eliminated from the World Cup. As long as they don’t do that, they’ll have a better time. In order to make this World Cup, they finished first in the African Group I and then beat Tunisia in the mandatory playoff. Coach Volker Finke is German, in case you hadn’t guessed, and this team plays a very German style, emphasizing neat and crisp passing and using two holding midfield men. Because of this, Cameroon has a very fit, strong and hard working defense and midfield, but lack a little creativity up front.
They’re going to need some people to step up if they’re going to repeat their amazing performance from 1990. The big name on their team is Samuel Eto’o, whom EPL fans should know from his time on Chelsea. For many years, Cameroon has relied heavily on Eto’o, so it’s nice that they have some other guys, like Stephane Mbia and rising star Fabrice Olinga (who is just 17 but already emerging in Spanish fútbol), stepping up to try to help this team reach the next level.
Unfortunately, I don’t think Cameroon will be strong enough to overtake the other three teams in this group. Hopefully they take a little longer to get eliminated this time around.
As the host nation, and a pretty good team to boot, Brazil will definitely move on from this group. If they don’t, I kind of fear what might happen. The people of Brazil are already straining under the socioeconomic pressures of hosting a world event. People are starving in the favelas within throwing distance of the lavish construction projects the government has undertaken for the World Cup, so maybe Brazil should just win the whole thing and ease some tension. Although things got pretty ugly last year at the Confederations Cup, and Brazil won that…
Anyway, enough political mishmash. The other team coming out of this group will be Croatia. Mexico or Cameroon will go winless, depending on how they do against each other. For my girlfriend’s sake, I hope Mexico can win that one.
Featued image courtesy of: Action Images/Lee Smith Livepic
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