The opening fixture kick off time in the World Cup is in Group A at 9pm Friday 15th June, we look at the four teams manager, best player and probable finishing table position.
Manager: Luiz Felipe Scolari. A seasoned manager with a winning mentality. Scolari managed Brazil to its last World Cup in Japan/South Korea in 2002. The Brazil team was buoyed by the brilliance of Ronaldo who netted eight goals in the tournament earning him the Golden Boot.
Scolari departed soon after their triumph and after a good tenure commanding the helm at Portugal followed by brief stints at Chelsea, Bunyokor in the Uzbekistani league and Palmeiras, he returned to the national team in 2012.
The prodigal son immediately got the green and yellows back to winning ways with a victorious Confederations Cup campaign last year. They defeated strong sides such as Italy, Uruguay and fellow 2014 group A members Mexico and capped it all off by annihilating World Cup holders Spain in the final. This sets the home nation up nicely for their efforts at claiming a remarkable sixth World Cup. It would be a momentous feat if Scolari were to win back the trophy for Brazil for the second time in as many attempts.
Best Player: Neymar. The flamboyant forward has a tremendous international record, scoring 30 goals in 47 matches. He has struggled to settle in his new home at the Nou Camp but the experience in La Liga and the Champions League will mean that he will be better prepared for European defenders. At the meagre age of 22, he is the brightest star in the galaxy that is the Brazil squad.
Projection: Semi finals. While Spain and Germany are strongly fancied to take home the trophy, you can’t rule out a prestigious team such as Brazil. With one of the most talented squads in the tournament and the added advantage of playing on home soil, this could be their year to replicate the Brazil of old.
Manager: Niko Kovac. The former Bayern Munich midfielder is a novice at the international stage. He took the reins after Igor Stimac when Croatia barely scraped into the playoffs. It is difficult to judge Kovac’s ability as a manger based on the two playoff legs he oversaw but he has an impressive 100% record in charge of their U21 side. The outcome of this tournament is unlikely to decide his future at
Best Player: Luka Modric. He is the playmaker, the engine that runs the Croatian midfield. Modric has sealed a first team spot at Real Madrid this season, which is an admirable feat considering the competition for places in their midfield. Modric flourishes in Croatia’s system where, unlike at the Bernabeu, he is the focal point of the attack. He will be pivotal in any success they have in Brazil.
Projection: Group stage exit. They finished their qualification poorly, taking only one point in their last four matches. The squad will look to their stars such as the aforementioned Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic to spark a positive reaction to their disappointing qualification campaign. They face stiff competition for second place in Mexico and Cameroon and if they manage to qualify it will make a real statement about how much the team has progressed since a somewhat disappointing performance at Euro 2012.
Manager: Miguel Herrera. Little is known of Miguel Herrera in the western world. The Mexican is a veteran of managing teams in his own domestic league, having been in charge of six teams in Mexican football in over 11 years. After a rocky qualification campaign, Herrera became the fourth head coach of the South American side and debuted with a devastating 9-3 victory over New Zealand in the playoffs. The team’s performance over two legs was enough for Herrera to keep his job for the main tournament.
Best Player: Giovani Dos Santos. The Barcelona youth academy product has had an odd career. The diminutive forward failed to make it in England and Turkey but appears to have final settled in his return to La Liga. He has had a solid season at Villarreal scoring 12 goals and making eight assists in all competitions for the Yellow Submarines. Despite being just 25, he has amassed an incredible 73 caps for his country, netting 14 goals in the process. He is highly skilled, experienced and his team mates will look to him for leadership in this campaign.
Projection: Round of 16. Although they struggled to book their place in Brazil, Mexico have a proud tradition of consistently making it out of the group stage. They have qualified for the Round of 16 in every World Cup since 1994. With a squad that boasts talented players such as Bayern’s alacritous winger Andres Guardado and Manchester United’s sharpshooter Javier Hernandez, who would bet against them reaching the second round for the sixth time in a row?
Manager: Volker Finke. Another newcomer to international management. Little is known of Finke other than he is the longest serving manager at German outfit SC Freiburg. His time at the club was noted only for either struggling to avoid the drop from the Bundesliga or pushing hard for promotion from the German Second Division. Finke had an extremely brief three game stint at Danish club FC Koln in 2011, which marked his last managerial role before receiving the Cameroon job last year.
Best Player: Samuel Eto’o. The national side’s captain and all time top goal scorer, Eto’o can be the catalyst for Cameroon to inspire victory. At the ripe age of 33, the former Barcelona and Inter Milan striker can be forgiven for losing a yard or two of pace. He is arguably the most successful footballer to come from the continent of Africa having claimed the African Footballer of the Year a record four times. His talent is doubtless and his penchant for finding the net is something to behold. Cameroon will be relying on their captain to guide them out of a tricky group.
Projection: Group stage exit. The squad is undeniably talented with names such as Alex Song, Stephane Mbia and Pierre Webo on the team sheet. However, with a 50% record in qualification, Cameroon were lucky to make it to the tournament. They were aided when a loss against rivals Togo was reversed after the home team were caught having an ineligible player in the match day squad. It is a big ask for Cameroon to qualify for the second round. They face incredibly tough competition in Brazil, Croatia and Mexico. They will need a minor miracle to not fall at the first hurdle.
GROUP A – BRAZIL, CAMEROON, MEXICO, CROATIA
June 12 Sao Paulo, 2100: Brazil v Croatia
June 13 Natal, 1700: Mexico v Cameroon
June 17 Fortaleza, 2000: Brazil v Mexico
June 18 Manaus, 2000: Cameroon v Croatia
June 23 Brasilia, 2100: Cameroon v Brazil
June 23 Recife, 2100: Croatia v Mexico