The 2014 FIFA World Cup kicks off in the Arena de Sao Paulo at 4pm ET on Thursday, following an opening ceremony that is sure to boast Brazilian carnival culture and advertise the “Joga Bonito” style of Brazilian soccer that has so endeared this year’s hosts to the soccer world.
The hosts Brazil will meet the Croatian national team for only the third time in their decorated history, with Pundits expecting an easy win for the South American side who are ranked as one of the favorites to win the tournament, while Croatia, who scraped through their European qualifying campaign, would exceed expectations in progressing from group A.
Brazilian soccer fans are famously critical of their national side, and will expect goals and flamboyancy from their opening fixture. Felipe Scolari, Brazil’s coach, will bear this in mind as Brazil look to make their mark on the tournament through the opening game, preferably through an early goal to put Brazil ahead. Scolari has a wealth of strong attacking midfielders to choose from to support Brazil’s young hope for the tournament, Neymar, who fills the iconic number 10 shirt for his first World Cup, and is expected to contend for the tournament’s golden boot award.
Following a dip in form towards the end of the Premier League season, Oscar might lose his place in the starting eleven, perhaps making way for one of his Chelsea teammates, either the hard-working Ramires or the industrious Willian. Chelsea’s David Luiz should start at centre back alongside the ever-reliable Thiago Silva. Long-stays Marcelo and Alves will compete the defense. Though Julio Cesar has been second to Robert Green for much of QPR’s past season in the Championship, he should start in goal for Brazil, ahead of Jefferson.
Croatia coach Niko Kovac has to deal with the suspension of Bayern Munich forward Mario Mandzukic, who misses the World Cup opener after receiving a red card for a horrific challenge in a play-off game against Iceland, in November. Replacing Croatia’s most influential player will distort their aging and uninspiring side as Kovac will look to either Olic or Eduardo to secure Croatia’s goals. Brazilian-born Eduardo is most likely to start, claiming he might sing both national anthems before kick-off.
With an experienced set of defenders in Srna, Lovren and Corluka, Croatia will look to shut out the likes of Hulk, Neymar and Fred, with Real Madrid’s Modric sitting deep to absorb some of the Brazilian midfield pressure. But with Brazil averaging over 2.5 goals per game in the build-up to the tournament, with Croatia only managing just over a goal a game, fans should expect an easy Brazilian victory to kick off their bid to reclaim the FIFA World Cup title.
Predicted Starting XI’s
Brazil: (4-2-3-1): Cesar; Alves, Luiz, Silva, Marcelo; Gustavo, Paulinho; Hulk, Oscar, Neymar; Fred.
Croatia: (4-5-1): Pletikosa; Srna, Lovren, Corluka, Pranjic; Vukojevic, Modric, Perisic, Rakitic, Kovacic; Olic.
Referee: Yuichi Nishimura (Japan).