World Cup: Brazil aim to deliver in opener

2014-06-10 09:17

Brazil kick off the 2014 Fifa World Cup against Croatia on Thursday amid huge expectations from the host nation that Neymar and company go all the way to a sixth title.

A good start for Luiz Felipe Scolari’s team would not only boost the players themselves but should rally the country behind them and make all the off-pitch problems forgotten – at least until the July 13 final.

A subway strike in Sao Paulo continued yesterday despite a court ruling that it was illegal, and all the construction delays and problems with the metropolis’ Corinthians stadium highlighted the difficult buildup since Brazil were confirmed hosts in 2007.

But on Thursday the stadium will see what is promised to be a colourful opening ceremony and then the 5pm local time kickoff for the 64-game extravaganza featuring 32 teams.

Whether or not social unrest will fade remains to be seen, as last year’s Confederations Cup was marred at times by violent demonstrations against the Brazilian government and the world football governing body Fifa as well as over the immense costs of the World Cup.

But that tune-up event also made Brazilians happy and proud as their team lifted the trophy after a 3-0 demolition of world and European champions Spain at the Maracana.

Returning to the iconic arena in Rio de Janeiro and winning in a month’s time is the desired scenario which would also make the shame of 1950 forgotten when Brazil were beaten there 2-1 by Uruguay in the deciding game.

And from the nation’s beleaguered president Dilma Rousseff to national football icon Pelé, 68% of Brazilians have faith in their team to go all the way – according to the latest surveys.

“It will be fantastic for the country if Brazil do well,” the three-time World Cup winner Pelé said in the final countdown. Scolari, who led Brazil to their last title in 2002 and was reappointed in 2012, is expected to field more or less the same line-up he did in Friday’s 1-0 win over Serbia, in which the team failed to impress and were jeered by fans.

That means Chelsea’s Oscar could keep his place despite coming under criticism; and Fred, who scored the winner, playing upfront with Neymar. “We players in Brazil know we have the conditions and an obligation to win this world title in Brazil, simply because this country breathes football,” Fred said.

Scolari has all 23 players fit and on board and they enjoyed a day off on Saturday with their families before the final countdown. “Go see your family, hug them, kiss them, enjoy them. Take advantage because you might suffer over the next 30-odd days.

“But the reward is that if you win you are world champions for 1 430 days. So it’s 30 days hard work for 1 430 days. It’s a good deal if you ask me,” Scolari said.

Brazil cannot afford to slip up in the group, which also comprises Mexico and Cameroon, as titleholders Spain could await them as early as the last 16.

But there the opponent could also be the Netherlands, who kicked Brazil out four years ago. Croatia, meanwhile, do not appear to be as accomplished as in their third-place finish from 1998, but coach Niko Kovac said his squad will “certainly not park the bus in our penalty area.”

They have enough quality with the likes of Luka Modric from Champions League winners Real Madrid and Ivan Rakitic from Europa League champions Sevilla to give the top teams a real scare.

The bad news for Kovac is that Danijel Pranjic damaged his ankle in the last tune-up game against Australia and will miss the World Cup opener.

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