In my previous blog on the 2014 FIFA World Cup draw, I gave reaction to the groupings and outlined possible results and gave a few predictions. It was a summary of every group. On the next few blogs I will devote attention to each group. This blog will focus on Group A, which includes hosts and tournament favourites Brazil, European qualifiers Croatia, Mexico from the CONCACAF region and Cameroon, from the World Cup qualifying campaign in Africa.
Brazil The hot favourites
Brazil is football. Everything about Brazilian football equals beauty, artistry and a flair for the spectacular. Brazil has always played an exciting brand of football known as Samba football. "Samba" as it illustrates and imitates the famous dance, Football has now become dancing with rhythmic passing, brilliant stepping and exquisite timing all in combination. The question is whether this Brazilian team can emulate the feats of previous legendary World Cup winning teams, such as the 1958, 1970 and 1994. Brazil has produced magical players such as Cafu, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Romario from the 90's-2000's. In the 70's and 80's you had Zico, Carlos Alberto and Rivelinho. Further back in the 50's and 60's Brazil produced the likes of Garrincha, Nilton Santos and the greatest footballer that ever lived - Pele. Fast forward to 2013 and Brazil are once again spoilt for choice regarding the depth of talent at their disposal. The key player in this World Cup will be Neymar. The striker, who plays his club football at Spanish giants Barcelona, has already shown his class on the international stage at the Confederations Cup this year. The Confederations Cup is somewhat like a pre-testing of the venues and facilities before the official World Cup showpiece. In that tournament Brazil gave a flickering indicator of their glowing potential by not only winning the tournament but doing so convincingly. They beat European and World Champions Spain 3-0 in the final and left the Spaniards scratching their heads. Can they repeat their performance in front of their adoring fans or will the pressure of expectance be too much on the young team’s shoulders? This average age of the Brazilian squad is 28 and this could either count for them or against them. In Felipe Scolari they have a World Cup winning coach in their ranks, who previously guided Brazil to World Cup winning glory in 2002 in Korea and Japan. It will be up to Scolari to manage the players and the media to create a calm and relaxed atmosphere. The last time the hosts won a World Cup was in 1998 when a Zinedine Zidane-inspired France headed them to victory over Brazil. Anticipation and expectation awaits the men in yellow and blue.
Key Players: Júlio César (Goalkeeper) Age: 34 Matches Played (goals scored): 77 (0) Club: Queens Park Rangers
David Luiz (Central defender) Age: 26 Matches Played (goals scored): 33 (0) Club: Chelsea Kaká (Attacking midfielder) Age: 31 Matches Played (goals scored): 87 (29) Club: AC Milan Neymar (Striker) Age: 21 Matches Played (goals scored): 46 (27) Club: FC Barcelona
A return to the glory days of 1998? Croatia are one of the strangest football nations for a number of reasons. They seem to have tournament pedigree as they play some excellent football to progress to knockout stages of tournaments. But then bizarrely they have a bad match and they are knocked out of the tournament, even if it seemed that they were going to progress further in tournaments. They have never had a lack of class players in their squad, but seem to struggle gelling as a team. Individual talents such as Niko Krancjar, Mario Mandzukic and the small of stature but big of heart Luka Modric pulling the strings from midfield. Croatia will perform at the 2014 Fifa World Cup if they learn how to play as a team. Coach Niko Kovac, who was a former Croatian football star, has brought new life into the team ethic since starting the job on October. In a short while he has managed to guide a struggling Croatian team to the World Cup finals after beating Iceland in a playoff. That playoff victory also came with disappointment as veteran defender, Josip Simunic, was banned for 10 matches after making obscene Nazi gestures after the match. Croatia had relied heavily on his experience and will have to look at other options at the left back position, such as Panathanaikos' defender Danijel Pranjic. It will have to be seen whether this group of Croatian players can emulate the feats of Croatia's dream team of 1998. This team made it all the way to a third place finish in the 1998 World Cup in France, on their first attempt. Davor Suker, Zvonomir Boban and Slaven Bilic were standout players at that tournament and showed the pedigree of the former Soviet Union countries. A new football powerhouse was on the rise, and it is a shame that Croatia has not made it into a major final since. 2014 looks to be no different as Croatia may find themselves in the final 16 of the tournament, with a major surprise if they could manage a quarter final place.
Luka Modric (Midfielder) Age: 28 Matches played: 72 (8) Club: Real Madrid Niko Kranjcar (Midfielder) Age: 29 Matches played: 81 (16) Club: Queens Park Rangers Mario Mandzukic (Striker) Age: 27 Matches played: 46 (13) Club: Bayern Munich
Mexico A mix of experience and youth Mexico endured a topsy turvy qualifying campaign where they finished in fourth place in the CONCACAF standings, which almost made them miss out on their first World Cup finals since 1990 when they were banned from the tournament. The reason behind this banning was the fact that they fielded over aged players during the 1988 Olympics, which was a youth event. Mexico eventually managed to make their way South to the showpiece event in Brazil after comprehensively beating New Zealand 9-3 on aggregate. This could just be what the Mexicans need to lift their spirits after a rough 2013 season. The Mexicans will most definitely look to Manchester United forward Javier Hernandez to score the majority of their goals at the tournament. Hernandez, when on form, is one of the world's best goal poachers who seem to score crucial winning goals.
Key players Javier Hernandez (Striker) Age: 25 Matches played: 57 (35) Club: Manchester United Rafael Marquez (Defender) Age: 34 Matches played: 116 (14) Club: Club Léon Guillermo Ochoa (Goalkeeper) Age: 28 Matches played: 55 (0) Club: AC Ajaccio
Cameroon (Will the Indomitable Lions roar?) Cameroon is one of the greatest football nations in Africa. One only has to look at the four African Nations Cup victories and appearances in World Cup football. Cameroon burst onto the international football scene and many pundits consciences with a dazzling display at Italia 90. At the 1990 FIFA World Cup, Roger Milla and his squad made it to the quarter finals before losing out to eventual finalist England. Milla was an essential component in the indomitable lions’ cog as he scored crucial goals and gained a huge following for his corner flag dancing celebrations. This was 24 years ago. These days Cameroon is not the powerhouse it once was as inconsistent performances coupled with internal management strife has lead to poor results of late. Samuel Eto’o, their star player and leading goal scorer with 55 goals in 112 appearances, has had his ups and down with management, but has come back to the squad in time for football’s showpiece tournament. Cameroon qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup after beating Tunisia in playoff matches. Cameroon can also count on other star players, such as Stéphane Mbia and Alex Song, who are classy midfielders in their own right. Cameroon has the chance to progress to the knockout stages, but will not expect to progress any further. The stiff completion in this group will either make or break the Africans, whose qualification was already a success on its own.
Key players Samuel Eto’o (Striker) Age: 32 Matches played: 114 (55) Club: Chelsea Jean Makoun (Midfielder) Age: 30 Matches played: 65 (5) Club: Rennes Pierre Webo (Striker) Age: 31 Matches played: 53 (17) Club: Fenerbahçe
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