Globe and Mail sports columnist Cathal Kelly will be covering the World Cup in Brazil. Here is his look at who to watch and what to expect in Group A.
Though lacking the swagger of previous iterations, this is as deep a starting XI as Brazil has fielded in a decade. They have the upfield power (Neymar, Fred, Hulk), the midfield industry (Oscar, Paulinho) and as good a backline as exists on the international scene (as well as Toronto FC’s Julio Cesar in goal). Easily the favourites.
How does a country of four million people consistently produce such top-class international sides? Croatia is a workmanlike squad with three surpassing stars – Real’s Luka Modric, Sevilla’s Ivan Rakitic and Bayern’s Mario Mandzukic. If that trio over-performs, this team could pull a huge surprise.
Four years ago, you would’ve predicted Mexico could be a favourite here. Then they staggered through qualification, requiring help from the U.S. to advance. That must’ve hurt. If recent form is our guide, this team is in tough.
Are they happy to be here? They should be, because that’s all this will be. Unless fading 33-year-old forward Samuel Eto’o comes up with a Zidane-in-’06 level swansong, Cameroon will be the drum every other team in Group A beats on the way to the second round.
Player to Watch: Neymar, Brazil
The 21-year-old has not delivered on unreachable hype at the pro-level, but he is a wizard in the colours of his country. Freelancing in from the wing, he can score from anywhere. As he goes, so goes the patriotic rationale of this tournament.
Game to Watch: Brazil vs. Croatia, June 12th
I watched these two teams play in Germany eight years ago. The memory of that atmosphere still gives me chills. The opening night game should be exponentially better.
Predicted Order of Finish: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon