World Cup Group A | Sao Paulo | Fri 13 Jun | 4am
YEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH, C’MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOON YA BEAUTY!
It may not have escaped your attention that the first game of 2014 World Cup commences at five sharp (local time) on Thursday: we’re so excited that we’ve been sitting in front of our telly wearing nothing but a hat made of fruit and a Copacabana-style leopardskin posing pouch for an entire week, climbing the walls impatiently like a Tizer-crazed ADHD kid on Christmas Eve who knows he’s getting a sweet new bike.
What it’s like for actual Brazilians, who have been walking round for four years with WORLD CUP! WORLD CUP! WORLD CUP! being beamed into their grids everywhere they turn is hard to comprehend, but it’s fair to predict that they will be frothing at the mouth at the Arena Corinthians, Sao Paulo, and your TV commentators will be leaving no cliché unused as colourful things happen at a carnival and fiesta type-shindig to the Samba beat and so on.
Once the nonsense is out the way, however, it’ll be time to remember that 11 Croatian blokes have also bowled up for some competitive sport, and begin a game of football that form and logic and the sense of occasion tells us Brazil should and must win.
The Croats will be missing star forward Mario Mandzukic through suspension, but savvy midfield pair Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic can be the Samba-soilers-in-chief, and 20-year old Mateo Kovacic could be one of the tournament’s breakout stars. On the downside, Croatia’s defence lacks pace and can be careless, and it may get embarrassing should they concede early.
Brazil, meanwhile, are hard to gauge: a couple of years ago they looked like a lost cause, but a splendid Confederations Cup gave them real hope of winning on home soil. They are young, have some obscenely talented individuals, a great defence, a fine pivot in Paulinho and that man Neymar up top. But how will they handle the expectation and pressure?
There’s only one way to find out, and only one thing is certain: by the end of the match, there will be fruit all over our television.
What the local media say
“22% of Brazilians think it will all go wrong for Luiz Felipe Scolari’s men on the pitch.” - Rio Times
Key battle: Paulinho vs Luka Modric
A World Cup opener decided by a battle between a Spur and a former Cockerel? You betcha. The energy of box-to-box middleman Paulinho is vital to the Selecao’s all action, tough-pressing style under Scolari, and how well he, and the system, contain the be-headbanded former White Hart Lane schemer, now pulling the strings for Real Madrid, should have a major outcome on whether day one goes to plan for the tournament hosts.
Facts and figures
- The host nation has never lost their opening World Cup game, with the 20 previous hosts winning 14 and drawing 6 of their openers.
- Brazil are taking part in their 20th World Cup. They are the only team to have taken part in every single tournament.
- Croatia’s last 9 World Cup games have produced 6 red cards.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
A solid 1-0 home win to ease Brazilian nerves.