Believe it or not, we’re inside 10 days to the start of the 2014 World Cup. I know, we’re anxious to get these final few days done and get the games going. With that in mind, it’s time to start breaking down the action that will happen on fields across Brazil.
Over the next eight days we’ll give you an inside look at each of the eight groups and give you our thoughts on who gets in to the knockout stages of the biggest sporting tournament the world over.
So, we start in alphabetical order as we give you our group previews. Let’s get right in to it, shall we?
Group A Teams (32flags Pre-Tournament Power Ranking):
Brazil (No. 1), Croatia (No. 15), Mexico (No. 22), Cameroon (No. 27)
Player to Watch in Group A: Neymar (Brazil)
There isn’t a team with more pressure on it than hosts Brazil. Not only is the tournament in their backyard, but the nation expects A Seleção to win the whole thing and do it in style. There isn’t a player with more style and flair to his game in the tournament than the young Neymar. He’s displayed that for Barcelona on the club level and has grown in to the Brazilians most important player at just the age of 22. He’s made 47 appearances for the full national team already, scoring 30 goals along the way. No other player will have as much attention or pressure on him, yet this is Neymar’s debut in the World Cup. He also appears very relaxed ahead of this tournament, pulling off this crazy penalty shot in training the other day:
X-Factor in Group A: Will the real Mexico please stand up
El tri stumbled their way in to the 2014 World Cup, placing fourth in CONCACAF qualifying and having to beat New Zealand in a playoff for its spot in the tournament. Yet, there is plenty of quality in the side with names like Javier Hernandez, Oribe Peralta and Raul Jimenez up front in attack. However, this team hasn’t had much in the way of luck on the injury front leading up to the tournament.
Seeing Luis Montes go from scoring a spectacular goal to breaking his tibia and fibula in a span of under five minutes was a huge blow to the team. Lost in that spectacularly awful injury was an equally big blow in the form of a foot injury to defender Rafa Marquez. If both aren’t a go (Montes for sure won’t be going to Brazil), this team loses the spine of it’s link from defense to attack. We’ve seen a lot of potential from this team, especially under the leadership of Miguel Herrera, but the results have been a mixed bag throughout the qualifying stages and beyond. If El tri live up to its massive potential, this could be the surprise team of the tournament.
Odds of Winning World Cup (courtesy VegasInsider.com):
Brazil: 3/1 (favorites)
Most Important Game: Mexico vs. Croatia
While most expect Brazil to take control of this group from the jump, the second place in this group could be wide open and thus come down to the final day of action in the group—June 23. On that day, Mexico and Croatia will do battle and it could be a winner advances situation at hand. Mexico has some really nice pieces to work with as we highlighted above, but so do Croatia. Let’s not forget they have the creative flair in the midfield with Luka Modric (Real Madrid) and striker Mario Mandzukic (Bayern Munich). It will be the matchup between those two and Mexico’s back line that could very well decide who moves on alongside Brazil from this group.
Teams to Move On: Brazil and Croatia
Brazil should be a lock out of this group, as they are head and shoulders better than anyone else on paper. It would be surprising to see them do anything but win all three group games. As for Croatia, this pick is more about what Mexico has lost so far than anything else. Sure, El tri could rally around the injured Luis Montes, but that only lasts so long and Croatia has plenty of talent to worry the Mexicans. I see them winning the decisive matchup on the final day of play in the group and earning the second spot in the round of 16 out of Group A.