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 Posted by Kevin Palmer
Jun 8, 2014

Group A: Hosts start as favourites

BrazilCameroon | Croatia | Mexico

Conventional Wisdom

Brazil are expected to storm through their opening matches of the World Cup. But if Luiz Felipe Scolari's team show any big-game nerves, Group A opposition could unsettle their ambitions.

The opening clash against Croatia in Sao Paulo will set the tone for a group that promises to offer unpredictability and intrigue, and not just from Neymar and his team of samba superstars.

- Men In Blazers: Will Mexico or Croatia join Brazil?
- 32 Team in 32 Days: Cameroon | Croatia | Mexico

Mexico have had their struggles, of course, but the record books confirm they boast an impressive record against Brazil, having achieved seven wins in their past 13 games against their rivals.

Cameroon's favoured 4-2-3-1 formation will be designed to dilute Brazil's attacking ambitions in their last group game, and before that fixture, Scolari's side will have hoped to secure their path to the last-16. Anything less will be considered to be a national calamity for a nation that demands success this summer.

Must Watch

There is only one place for any football lover to be on Thursday, June 12, and that is transfixed to a television or, if you are incredibly fortunate, to witness first-hand Brazil vs. Croatia in the opening match of the World Cup finals.

With all the pressure on hosts Brazil, they may not like to be reminded that the side weighed down by expectations in an opening match of World Cup do have a history of running into trouble.

Argentina started their defence of the World Cup with a defeat against Belgium in 1982, with world champions Italy failing to beat Bulgaria in the first game of Mexico '86. Then there was Cameron's somewhat brutal slaying of world champs Argentina on the first day of Italia '90, before France started their defence of their world title with a defeat against Senegal in 2002.

Brazil have the honour of getting this World Cup off and running in style and they dare not slip up.

Luka Modric will shift roles and play with a more defensive mindset for Croatia than he does with Real Madrid.

Main men

Neymar (Brazil): Expectations will weigh heavily on the shoulders of this magical Barcelona forward, who has been one of the faces of this World Cup in the build-up to the tournament. The football family is waiting to see if he can live up to the hype.

Luka Modric (Croatia): A classy performer in the heart of the midfield for Real Madrid and Croatia, Modric will take centre-stage for the national team in a more reserved role than this attack-minded creative maestro may prefer.

Javier Hernandez (Mexico): This striker's lack of first team chances at Manchester United will have concerned Mexico coach Miguel Herrera, who may not name him in his first choice starting line-up at Brazil 2014.

Samuel Eto'o (Cameroon): This former Barcelona and Inter Milan legend of African football insists this will not be his last World Cup, but it may well be his last chance to make a defining impression. He is still a striker worthy of respect at the age of 33.

What Matters Most

Brazil are expected to win Group A, so the battle for second is all important, and Croatia's hopes and ambitions are likely to be defined by their opening two games.

With uncertainty surrounding Mexico and Cameroon's form heading into the World Cup, Croatia appear to be favourites to challenge for second spot, yet it's not hard to imagine a scenario that sees them collecting just one point from their first two games.

If Nico Kovac's Croats lose their opening match against Brazil -- for which striker Mario Mandzukic will be suspended -- the manner of that defeat and the level of their performance is likely to be crucial as they head into what may become a must-win game against Cameron in the sweltering heat of Manaus on June 18.

That would open the door to a Mexican squad that should feel comfortable with the conditions in South America, or a Cameroon side who have a chance to get points on the board before they meet Brazil in their final group game.

Key Stat

Host nation Brazil is the headliner of Group A, which features a team from four different continents. The other three teams aren't considered title contenders, and history agrees. No team has ever emerged from Brazil's group to win the World Cup.

- Five Aside's Group A preview

Prediction:

1. Brazil
2. Cameroon
3. Mexico
4. Croatia

Group B | Group C | Group D
Group E | Group F | Group G | Group H

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