Arena Corinthians, Sao Paulo
Time: Thursday, June 12, 20:00 GMT (01:30 IST)
Brazil will kick-start their FIFA World Cup 2014 campaign with this encounter against Croatia at Sao Paulo. This match starts a month-long carnival of football and the home team will be on the lookout to start it on the right note. Brazil need to score and score early in this match, as the crowd is bound to get restless if the home side under-performs at any stage.
Playing in front of their home crowd is a double-edged sword – on the one hand, they can be the loudest supporters of the team and on the other hand, they can boo the whole team if they fail to deliver the goods.
Croatia head toward this match on the back of a 1-0 victory over Australia. One of the most important aspects for them will be the lack of goals up top and with the Brazilian defense being more miserly than ever, Croatia might find it hard to break into the Brazil penalty box.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Brazil start off this World Cup as one of the favourites to lift the coveted trophy. Having lifted the same on five previous occasions, Brazil are no stranger when it comes to succeeding in the most prestigious tournament in the world. Add to this the fact that they are hosting the World Cup for the first time since 1950, since Maracanazo.
A lot of water has flown under the bridge since then but that loss still somehow rankles in their ears. Even if Brazil were to lift the World Cup this year, that loss will never be forgotten. To achieve success, Brazil brought together Scolari and Carlos Alberto Parreira – two architects of their previous World Cup victories. Under Scolari, Brazil has been a different team altogether and if their performance from last year’s Confederations Cup is anything to go by, Brazil will be going all guns blazing from the word go. Off the field antics will surely dominate this World Cup and clashes will be common. Tear gas will be thrown at protestors and there are bound to be demonstrations everywhere. But, no matter what happens, every one knows one thing for sure – that when the first ball will be kicked, every single person in Brazil will drop whatever they are doing and give their whole energy towards football. Not because they are the hosts, but because football runs in their veins.
Scolari will field a 4-2-3-1 formation in this match with Cesar under the bar. The back-line will be formed by Alves on the right, Marcelo on the left with Luiz and Silva forming the central defensive pair. Brazil has managed to control the number of goals conceded and a lot of that is due to the partnership of Luiz and Silva – arguably the costliest central defensive pair in the world right now. Gustavo and Paulinho will be deployed as the defensive screen, although Paulinho is likely to play a much advanced role as the match progresses. That these two have managed to keep out Fernandinho and Ramires from the starting line-up goes a long way in showing their prowess in Brazil colors. On the other hand, it also goes to show the depth of this Brazil squad.
The midfield will be formed by Hulk on the right, Neymar on the left with Oscar playing in the hole behind the striker Fred. A lot has been said about the loss of form of Oscar, and Scolari will be hoping that the youngster regains his form soon. In case he fails to deliver, Brazil always have Willian to cover for him.
Possible Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Cesar(GK); Alves, Luiz, Silva, Marcelo; Gustavo, Paulinho; Hulk, Oscar, Neymar; Fred
Croatia will be missing their talismatic striker, Mandzukic for this match due to suspension. This World Cup will throw up a lot of strange homecomings and in this match, Eduardo is likely to be the one. Born and brought up in Brazil, Eduardo has played for Croatia for a long time. In a recent interview, Eduardo went on to say that he might even sing both the national anthems in this match! Croatia has shown rapid development under former player Kovac, and that is something they will be hoping will extend in this World Cup. One of the most technically gifted sides in the world, Croatia barely managed to limp their way to the World Cup, having changed managers as many as three times.
Kovac is likely to deploy a 4-2-3-1 formation with Pletikosa under the bar. The back-line will consist of Srna on the right, Pranjic on the left, with Lovren and Corluka forming the central defensive pair. Srna is the most experienced player in the Croatia line-up and they will surely be needing all of his experience from 110 international appearances. He is most likely to be the most vocal player in the back-line and his expertise will be invaluable in keeping Neymar and co. at bay. Croatia’s midfield is packed with some of the most extremely talented footballers. Their defensive screen will comprise of the likes of Vukojevic and Modric. Modric will be deployed in a much deeper role than usual, and the onus will be on him to pull all the strings from the midfield.
The midfield should be formed by Perisic on the right, Kovacic on the left with Rakitic playing through the center. Rakitic is likely to drop down a bit as the match progresses and play alongside Modric. The midfield nexus of Rakitic, Modric and Kovacic will be the one which Croatia will be banking on in this match. If the three of them play their natural game, they might seize control of the midfield and that will be something Brazil will look to prevent from happening. Olic will play as the lone striker for this match.
Possible Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Pletikosa(GK); Srna, Lovren, Corluka, Pranjic; Vukojevic, Modric; Perisic, Rakitic, Kovacic; Olic
Player to Watch Out For
A lot has been written and said about this 21-year-old sensation. Formerly known as the “youtube sensation”, Neymar has become larger than life as he has progressed in his career. Not only is he the poster boy of Brazilian football, he is one of the most marketable players in the world right now. Almost every street and every hoarding in Brazil is splashed with his face. He has achieved quite a lot in a such a small span of time and this World Cup comes at the right juncture in his career. He will surely go all out to prove his worth once more in front of his home crowd, having risen to the top in last year’s Confederations Cup. He provided the spark at vital moments in the Confederations Cup and it was his superb volley from out of the penalty box that set the tone of the tournament. Neymar seems to bring a mixture of everything that is good in Brazilian football but he is yet to become the best in any one single aspect. He possesses trickery and imagination and an innate ability to carry the ball and these are some of the aspects of his game which Brazil will be banking on in this match and also during the entirety of the World Cup.
Brazil 2 – 0 Croatia
Brazil will start this match as favourites and although Croatia are expected to provide some resistance, the home team will win this match with Neymar on the score-sheet. Brazil will be looking to start this World Cup on home soil on a strong note and there is no better way than to do that than to triumph over Croatia and set a precedent.