• Brazil
  • Cameroon
  • Croatia
  • Mexico
  • Prediction
  • Matches
Tab 1
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Brazil
Brazil and football go together like fish and chips, toast and marmalade and Sooty and Sweep. The game was introduced to Brazil by Scottish expats, the most famous of whom was Charles Miller, the son of a Scottish railway engineer. Charles was born in Sao Paulo, sent to school in Southampton and played football for Southampton and Corinthians. He returned to Brazil in 1894 armed with 2 footballs and a rule book.

Football took off simultaneously in various parts of Brazil but Miller is credited with organising the first league competitions in the Sao Paulo region and organised tours to Brazil by both Southampton and Corinthians. It was the latter’s name that Miller proposed for the new sports club founded in Sao Paulo in 1910. Shame – one of Brazil’s biggest clubs could have been called The Saints! Anyhow, Miller learned the game in Southampton and is regarded as the “Father” of Brazilian football.

Brazil is the only nation to have competed in all 20 World Cup final tournaments. They have the most wins, 5 (in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002). They were runners up twice (1950 and 1998) and third twice (1938 and 1978). Their players have graced stadia all over the world – and what players! Their all-time goal scorers list reads Pele, Ronaldo, Romario, Zico, Bebeto, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Jairzinho and Tostao. What luscious memories those names conjure up…

The current crop of Brazilian internationals may lack some of the flair of their illustrious predecessors yet they are drawn from top clubs in the best leagues in the world. Indeed, so many Brazilians play in so many top clubs that they could field several competitive squads. Their stand-by list contains several exciting young players from the Brazilian leagues as well as guys who have enjoyed recent success at PSG and Atletico Madrid.

Those selected by “Big Phil” Scolari to wear the golden shirts are:
Goalkeepers:

1. Jefferson (Botafogo)
12. Julio Cesar (QPR – on loan at Toronto)
22. Victor (Atletico Mineiro)

Cesar at 34 years old remains first choice after moving to MLS to secure regular football.

Defenders:

2. Dani Alves (Barca)
3. Thiago Silva (PSG) – captain
4. David Luiz (Chelsea)
6. Marcelo (Real Madrid)
13. Dante (Bayern)
14. Maxwell (PSG)
23 Maicon (Roma)
15. Henrique (Napoli)

Despite doubts expressed about him here, Luiz often lines up alongside Silva in the centre. Brazil’s full-backs always bomb on and Dani Alves and Maxwell will be no different.

Midfield:

5. Fernandinho (Man City)
16. Ramires (Chelsea)
18. Hernanes (Inter)
11. Oscar (Chelsea)
19. Willian (Chelsea)
17. Luiz Gustavo (Wolfsburg)
8. Paulinho (Spurs)

Midfield has a distinctly Premiership feel. Fernandinho and Ramires play holding roles allowing Oscar to create upfield. The other midfield role is up for grabs but Willians’s energy may get him the nod.


Forwards:

9. Fred (Fluminense)
10. Neymar (Barca)
7. Hulk (Zenit)
20. Bernard (Shaktar)
21. Jo (Atletico Mineiro)

Neymar is the key that unlocks opposing defences. Until last year I’d heard just hype but seen little to back it up. Then he starred in the Confederations Cup and moved to Barca. He looks the real deal and will start alongside Fred. If that doesn’t work Hulk will join from the bench.

If expectation alone could secure World Cup success, Brazil would walk away with their 6th trophy. The nation demands it. 64 years on from their defeat by Uruguay at the Maracana, Brazilians cannot contemplate a further loss on home soil. The major problem for Scolari and his team is how to cope with such expectations whilst overcoming their opponents on the pitch. The dry run last summer went rather well so Brazil are rightly favourites to win on 13th July this year. I’m certainly not going to bet against them.

Spot51


Tab 2
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Cameroon
Football was a late starter in Africa. The Indomitable Lions played their first international match in 1960. A decade later they participated in their first tournament, the African up of Nations, and then qualified to play in the World Cup finals in 1982. At Italia 90 Cameroon won their group then beat Colombia in the round of 16 with two goals from Roger Milla. In their quarter final they led England 2-1 before two Lineker penalties (the 2nd in extra time) turned the tables.

Since then, Cameroon qualified for every WC finals except Germany in 2006. Cameroon has won the Cup of Nations on four occasions, the Olympic Soccer tournament in Sydney 2000 and were runners up to France in the 2003 Confederations Cup – a tournament remembered for the sad death of Mark Vivien Foe who collapsed during their semi-final win over Colombia.

The 2014 squad was selected by the German coach, Volker Finke:
Goalkeepers:

16 Charles Itandje (PAOK – loan to Konyaspor)
23 Sammy N’djock (Antalyaspor – loan to Fethiyespor)
1 Loic Feudjou (Coton Sport)

Assembe was the senior keeper but was cut.

Defenders:

22 Allan Nyom (Udinese – loan to Granada)
5 Dany Nounkeu (Besiktas)
4 Cedric Djeugoue (Coton Sport)
14 Aurelien Chedjou (Galatasaray)
3 Nicolas Nkoulou (Marseilles)
12 Henri Bedimo (Lyon)
2 Benoît Assou-Ekotto (Spurs – loan to QPR)

N’koulou and Chedou are 1st choice centre-backs. Nyom should be right back with Bendimo left side.

Midfield:


18 Eyong Enoh (Antalyaspor)
11 Jean Makoun (Rennes)
21 Joel Matip (Schalke)
17 Stephane Mbia (QPR – loan to Sevilla)
7 Landry Nguemo (Bordeaux)
6 Alex Song (Barcelona)
20 Edgar Salli (Lens)

Makoun and Mbia are by nature holding players. Matip plays centre-half for his club. Only Loe is a recognised attacking threat. These players take few prisoners.

Forwards:

9 Samuel Eto'o (Chelsea) - captain
13 Eric Choupo Moting (Mainz)
8 Benjamin Moukandjo (Nancy)
10 Vincent Aboubakar (Lorient)
15 Pierre Webo (Fenerbahce)
19 Fabrice Olinga (Malaga – loan to Zulte-Waregem)

Eto’o and Webo are the established spearheads but young guns are pressing for starting berths.
Cameroon is one of the Black-African nations that put their continent on the world football map. If an African country does one day lift the World Cup it may well be Cameroon. Sadly, it probably won’t be in 2014. Cameroon may even finish bottom - which says much about the strength of Group A.

Spot51


Tab 3
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Croatia
Croatia became independent in 1991 and played their first international (v USA) in November of that year. Football was always popular there and Croats comprised the majority of most post-war Yugoslav national sides. They have been serial qualifiers ever since, missing out on just Euro 2000 and the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

All-time top scorer for Croatia is Davor Suker with 45 goals. The next 4 on the list, Eduardo, Srna, Olic and Krancjar are still playing but unlikely to overtake Suker anytime soon. Darijo Srna is Croatia’s most capped player (111) and current captain.

Former captain Nico Kovac had a long career in German football. In 2013 he was appointed head coach of Croatia. His squad comprises:
Goalkeepers:

1 Stipe Pletikosa (Rostov)
23 Danijel Subasic (Monaco)
12 Oliver Zelenika (Dinamo Zagreb – loan to Lokomotiva)

Pletikosa is the most capped and should start.


Defenders:

5 Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv)
6 Dejan Lovren (Southampton)
13 Gordan Schildenfeld (D. Moscow on loan to Panathinaikos)
11 Darijo Srna (Shaktar)
2 Sime Vrsaljko (Genoa)
21 Domagoj Vida (Dynamo Kiev)
3 Danijel Pranjic (Panathinaikos)

Captain Srna can play anywhere across the back but is best as an overlapping right back. Pranjic will be left back with Corluka and Lovren in the centre.


Midfielders:

10 Luka Modric (Real Madrid)
7 Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla)
20 Mateo Kovacic (Inter)
4 Ivan Perisic (Wolfsburg)
8 Ognjen Vukojevic (Dynamo Kiev)
14 Josip Brozovic (Dinamo)
19 Jorge Sammir (Getafe)
15 Milan Badelj (Hamburg)

Modric pulls the strings in midfield with Vukojevic sitting deeper. Rakitic and Perisic will likely fill other places. Krancjar failed to make the squad.


Forwards:

17 Mario Mandzukic (Bayern),
18 Ivica Olic (Wolfsburg)
22 Eduardo (Shakhtar)
9 Nikica Jelavic (Hull)
16 Ante Rebic (Fiorentina).

Mandzukic should lead the line. Playing off him will be Olic or Eduardo. Jelavic tends to be the impact substitute.
There is enough quality is this squad to give anyone a game. If they get out of this group they can go places in this tournament. Holding Brazil in the opening match would be a good start.

Spot51


Tab 4
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Mexico
For a people that love football as much as Mexicans, their national side has a distinctly underwhelming history. Football arrived with Cornish miners at the start of the 20th century and became properly organised in the 1920s.

For most of the 20th century Mexico dominated their region, regularly qualifying for World Cup finals (15/20) but have only 2 QF appearances to show for it. Since CONCACAF came into being in 1991, Mexico has shared the Gold Cup with 6 wins to USA’s 5 and Canada’s 1. Perhaps their greatest triumphs have come winning the 1999 Confederations Cup and the Olympic tournament at London 2012. I saw their thrilling QF win over Senegal at Wembley, en-route to beating Japan in the SF and Brazil (yes, Brazil with Hulk, Neymar and co.) in the final. Nine of that Olympic squad appear in the 23 selected by coach, Miguel Herrera.
Goalkeepers:

1 Jesus Corona (Cruz Azul)
13 Guillermo Ochoa (Ajaccio)
12 Alfredo Talavera (Toluca)

Ochoa will move now his Italian club are relegated. He is first choice with Corona as back-up.


Defenders:

4 Rafael Marquez (Leon) - captain
5 Diego Reyes (Porto)
15 Hector Moreno (Espanyol)
22 Paul Aguilar (America)
3 Carlos Salcido (Tigres)
2 Francisco 'Maza' Rodriguez (America)
7 Miguel Layun (America)
18 Andres Guardado (Valencia – loan to Bayer Leverkusen)

Marquez, reaching the end of a glittering career with Monaco and Barca, remains the rock of Mexico’s defence. He’ll probably be alongside Rodriguez with Aguilar and Salcido at full back.


Midfielders:

23. Jose Juan Vazquez (Leon)
6 Hector Herrera (Porto)
16 Miguel Ponce (Toluca)
21 Carlos Pena (Leon)
20 Javier Aquino (Villareal)
8 Marco Fabian (Guadalajara – loan to Cruz Azul)
17 Isaac Brizuela (Toluca)

Compared to their vastly experienced defenders, Mexico’s midfielders have far fewer caps between them but are young, energetic and get about the pitch. Expect Vazquez to sit while Herrera and Fabian bomb forward.


Forwards:

19 Oribe Peralta (Santos Laguna)
14 Javier Hernandez (Manchester United)
9 Raul Jimenez (America)
11 Alan Pulido (Tigres)
10 Giovani dos Santos (Villarreal)

Giovani plays at the point of a midfield diamond or as a second striker. Chicharito and/or Peralta will start up front.

Spot51


Tab 5

Spot's Prediction

Group A is going to be tough to get out of. At risk of hearing the “There are no bad teams at the World Cup” Klaxon – there are no bad teams at the World Cup. It doesn’t take much courage to suggest that Brazil will top Group A but sorting the rest out is more complex. If pushed, I would say that Cameroon with their combative midfielders and Mexico with their tireless running may just lose out to the extra class in Croatia’s squad. I rather hope so as it would be good to see Lovren up against the world’s best strikers as the competition progresses.

So Brazil and Croatia for me.

Spot51


Tab 6

Group 'A' Matches


  1. Brazil 3-1 Croatia - 12th June 2014
  2. Mexico 1-0 Cameroon - 13th June 2014
  3. Brazil 0-0 Mexico - 17th June 2014
  4. Cameroon 0-4 Croatia - 18th June 2014
  5. Cameroon 1-4 Brazil - 23rd June 2014
  6. Croatia 1-3 Mexico - 23rd June 2014

Group Table

As at 24.06.14

Country

P

W

D

L

GD

Pts

Brazil

3

2

1

0

5

7

Mexico

3

2

1

0

3

7

Croatia

3

1

0

2

0

3

Cameroon

3

0

0

3

-8

0