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Brazil's Neymar celebrates his goal against South Africa during their international friendly soccer match at the First National Bank (FNB) Stadium, also known as Soccer City, in Johannesburg, in this March 5 2014 file photo. (SIPHIWE SIBEKO/REUTERS)
Brazil's Neymar celebrates his goal against South Africa during their international friendly soccer match at the First National Bank (FNB) Stadium, also known as Soccer City, in Johannesburg, in this March 5 2014 file photo. (SIPHIWE SIBEKO/REUTERS)

World Cup

Cathal Kelly's Group A preview Add to ...

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.

Brazil

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.

Associated Press

Croatia

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.

Associated Press

Mexico

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.

Associated Press

Cameroon

Cameroon

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.

Reuters

Watch list

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

Follow on Twitter: @cathalkelly

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