2014 FIFA World Cup – Group A
Brazil vs Croatia
Thursday, June 12, 2014, 4:00 pm Eastern, TV: ESPN2, Univision
Arena Corinthians – Sao Paulo, Brazil
Money Line: Brazil -365 / Croatia +1360 / Draw +460
Point Spread: Brazil -1 1/2 -115 / Croatia +1 1/2 -105
Total: under 2 1/2 -135 / over 2 1/2 +115
All Odds Courtesy of Bookmaker
Expectations are sky high for Brazil as they play the first World Cup on home soil since 1950 Thursday against Croatia in Sao Paulo. Anything less than a sixth title for Brazil in the 2014 World Cup will be viewed as a bitter disappointment for the passionate Selecao fans. No host nation has ever lost their opening game in 20 previous World Cups with a 14-0-6 record.
Brazil and Croatia have only met twice previously. One was a friendly and doesn’t really count. Brazil did beat Croatia 1-0 in the 2006 World Cup in Germany in the last meeting between the teams.
Brazil is coached by Luiz Felipe Scolari. Brazil has played in all 20 World Cups and has won five of them. However, they haven’t won it since 2002, and were eliminated in the quarters in the last two Cups. Brazil is #4 in the FIFA World Rankings.
As the host nation Brazil escaped the rigors of qualifying in CONMEBOL for South America. However that also means they haven’t played very many competitive games. Brazil did win the 2013 Confederations Cup on home soil, beating defending World Cup champion Spain 3-0 in the Final. Brazil has won their last 6 friendlies by a combined score of 19-1 with only Chile scoring a goal. However, in the last tune-up for Brazil last Friday, they were booed off the pitch by their home fans in a lackluster 1-0 victory over Serbia.
Croatia is coached by Niko Kovac. Croatia is making their their fourth appearance in the World Cup since 1998. Croatia did not qualify in 2010. The Croatians finished third in 1998 in their World Cup debut, but did not make it out of the group stage in 2002 or 2006. Croatia is currently #20 in the world rankings.
Croatia opened their European qualifying group with a 5-0-1 record. However, they could only manage one more point in the next 4 games. Croatia finished a distant second behind group winner Belgium but still held off Serbia for second. Croatia advanced to the World Cup by beating Iceland in a two leg playoff 2-0 on aggregate. Croatia is 2-0-1 this season in warm-ups for the World Cup including a 1-0 victory Saturday against Australia in Salvador, Brazil.
Brazil suffered a scare when brilliant young striker Neymar rolled his ankle in training Tuesday. Team doctors examined him and determined the injury wasn’t serious. He is listed as probable. The 22 year Neymar already has 31 goals for the national team. He headlines an awesome array of stars on the front line such as Fred, Hulk, and Oscar any of whom can score at any time. 34 year old keeper Julio Cesar is still one of the best in the world. The back line has it’s share of stars as well including Dani Alves, David Luiz, and Thiago Silva. Brazil uses a 4-3-3 formation.
Croatia’s task against Brazil grew a whole lot tougher due to some key injuries and a suspension. Striker Mario Mandzukic is suspended for this match after he got a red card in the last playoff match against Iceland. Left back Danijel Pranjic severely sprained his ankle in the win over Australia Saturday and will not start. Defender Ivan Strinic will also miss the game. Ivica Olic, Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic will look to pick up the scoring slack without Mandzukic. Stipe Pletikosa will mind the net for Croatia.
Brazil hasn’t lost a group stage game in the World Cup since 1998 when they lost 2-1 to Norway. They have gone 8-0-1 in the last three group stages. I don’t see that streak ending. Croatia is a talented team but are missing too many key pieces to make this a game. I think Brazil wins 3-1.
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