World Cup Group A Preview
The hosts Brazil perhaps are lucky to be drawn against countries not currently boasting a decent vintage team. Still, the Croatia, Cameroon and Mexico teams, will provide the hosts with a decent test to warm them up, but the biggest question will be who finishes up runners-up to Brazil. You’d imagine that this could be one of the more entertaining groups in terms of open attacking football. For the qualifiers, a tough test awaits in the second round against either Spain, Chile or Holland (sorry Aussies).
To Brazil the fact that Uruguay beat them the last time they hosted the World Cup, 64-years-ago, remains the proverbial inch they can’t scratch. A chance to rectify history will also spur them on. Interestingly, Brazil potentially won’t play at the Maracana in Rio until the final, if they get there.
Another factor for the hosts is the climate of social unrest currently in Brazil, due to the government ploughing millions into hosting the tournament rather than solving the country’s widespread poverty. A recent poll claimed only 48% of Brazilians were supportive of hosting the World Cup.
If Brazil were to come unstuck against either Spain, Chile or Holland in the second round, then all hell might break lose on the streets of Brazil (certainly judging by the state of the ITV studio windows after the first Brazil game). No wonder there were a few bias decisions going their way against Croatia.
On the field, Neymar showed in the Confederations Cup that he can inspire a nation, but the World Cup is a different matter. A pair of Beats headphones are only going to get you so far when it comes to shielding you from the huge expectation and pressure.
Neymar, despite his 50 caps for Brazil is still just 22. Remember what happened to Ronaldo before the 1998 World Cup final against France? When the Brazilian talisman passed out and spent most of the build-up to the final in hospital. Surely that was down to pressure. Imagine a World Cup final on home soil in Brazil. Times Ronaldo’s pressure by ten.
Despite a less than convincing opening game against Croatia, Brazil’s defence is rated as one of the best in international football and that’ll give them a solid foundation to tackle most teams in the tournament. But is David Luiz really worth £40 million though? We’ll certainly find out soon enough when Brazil reach the second round.
Throughout qualifying Mexico were in a mess. They went through four managers and only two late USA goals against Panama allowed the Mexicans to qualify for their eventual play-off success against New Zealand. However, don’t read too much into that. Dos Sanchez, Oribe Peralta and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez will give the normally tidy Mexicans a cutting edge that makes them challengers to qualify out of the group.
This time round they perhaps lack the overall talent of the Mexican teams of the last two World Cups, whom both traversed through the group stages before being beaten by Argentina in two spirited contests. But they have done the important first step of winning their opener against Cameroon.
Mexico normally make it through to the last 16 and a win against Croatia would seal it. That should be the stand-out game of the group in terms of being a do-or-die match-up.
Samuel Eto’o may have got his old man goal celebration routine down, but he’s a teenager compared to Roger Milla who was scoring World Cup goals in his 40’s. Speaking of Milla his recent verbal jousts with the Cameroon manager don’t exactly suggest all is well with the Indomitable Lions. Eto’o also seems to think he’s the boss too.
While Cameroon have muscle in midfield with Alex Song and co, and athleticism in most areas of the pitch, bar their aging front man, this is a team lacking inspiration. The worst Cameroon team to qualify for the World Cup? Maybe judging by how they set up against Mexico. Don’t expect them to qualify now unless Eto’o rolls back the years and shocks Brazil in their own back yard.
Suspended for the first game against Brazil, it might be up to Bayern’s Mario Mandzukic to fire Croatia back into contention after an opening game defeat to Brazil. With the midfield hub of support in the form of Modric and the blossoming Ratkic, Croatia are still very capable of qualifying from the group stages. Their final game vs Mexico should be a qualification decider.
Well, I would have said Neymar, even before he bagged two goals against Croatia. He certainly is the spark and inspiration of the Brazilian team and very difficult to man-mark. Yes, Fred scored five goals in the Confederation Cup last year, but judging by his showing against Croatia, he’s not an out-and-out striker that Brazil can rely on. Don’t expect Hulk to be relied on to score the goals to take Brazil to the final either (ala the picture above).
Croatia’s Mandzukic would have been in with a shout to finish the group’s top scorer if he didn’t have to miss the first game. Still, an impressive display against Cameroon in the next game could have him back on track.
Who will qualify?
Brazil are a given. These are not the greatest Mexico, Cameroon or Croatia teams in recent memory, so you’d expect Brazil to potentially end up with nine points. .The key match-up for the second spot will be the Mexico vs Croatia match, a game that finished 1-0 to Mexico in the group stages of the 2002 World Cup. It’s a difficult one to call. Both Croatia and Mexico suffered at the hands of the officials in their first games, with disallowed goals, so their first results were more modest than their performances deserved. Goal difference may be needed to separate them at the end.
Villa Connection to the Group
Personally speaking, I always like to say my two favourite teams in my lifetime are the Aston Villa and Brazil teams of 1982. Beyond that, it’s a group that serves up nothing but despair when it comes to Villa connections, namely two of Villa’s worst signings in recent years – Bosko Balaban of Croatia and Eric Djemba-Djemba of Cameroon. Just as punishment for having those two players as their countrymen, both teams don’t deserve to get out of Group A!
In terms of Villa’s Mexican links, Paul Lambert name-checked Javier Hernandez at the end of last season as a player he’d like to see at Villa. That was nothing but an empty gesture though.