It is less than 48 hours until the World Cup opener finally kicks off in Sao Paulo as hosts Brazil take on Croatia. The entire world will be watching to see if the hosts can put on a dominant performance against weaker opposition or if the pressure of playing competitive football at home will be too much for the Brazilians. Here are five things to look out for in the World Cup opener.
- Will Julio Cesar find form fast?
Julio Cesar has not been playing at the top level for quite some time now. After QPR were relegated last summer, he was replaced by England reject Robert Green as the squads number one goalkeeper last summer. Since then Cesar has found a new club in MLS side Toronto FC, but one can cast doubts on whether this is a good thing for Brazil’s best shot-stopper.
While the MLS is ever improving in terms of stature and standard, it still might not be the best of moves, as the standard of competition is significantly lower than the best leagues in Europe. It may affect his performance not just in this game, but throughout this tournament too.
- Can Modric and Rakitic create problems for Brazil?
Croatia are currently under a period of transition where their recent change of management may affect their chances of getting into the last 16. Yet that does not stop them from having a team loaded with talent, especially in the centre of midfield.
Even though the Croatians will not have the services of experienced midfielder Niko Kranjcar, they will have Real Madrid’s game-changer Luka Modric and Sevilla’s Ivan Rakitic, who can terrorise the Brazilian midfield and defence. They both field an excellent passing game and Croatia will be relying on the midfield duo heavily to be their main source of creating chances.
- Is Neymar 100% fit and ready?
The talismanic forward and Brazil’s poster boy for this World Cup suffered a relatively small ankle injury in training on Tuesday, which has worried an entire nation this past week.
However, and thankfully for the Brazilians, Neymar managed to shake that injury off and he was performing his usual tricks in training yesterday. Still, any injury so close to the World Cup, will always cast an element of doubt, and it is virtually guaranteed that defenders will be targeting him and roughing him up in this tournament.
- Will the occasion get to Brazil?
The Brazilian coaching staff have handled the situation rather well by protecting key players like Neymar from getting into the media limelight too often. By limiting these appearances in front of the media, it is believed that the expectations are lowered within the Brazilian squad.
However, the Brazilians can do as much mental preparations as they want in the build up to the World Cup opener, there is no doubt that some members of the team will feel overly-excited or anxious heading into this match. On the plus side, in the last five World Cups, the record stands at three wins and three draws for the six hosts (there were two hosts in 2002) in their opening matches.
- David Luiz or Dante to partner Thiago Silva?
Many people believe that David Luiz will partner Thiago Silva instead of Dante for tomorrow’s opener between Brazil and Croatia. It was a massive question heading into the Confederations Cup last year and Scolari selected Luiz ahead of Dante in all of their games.
The problem for Scolari is that Luiz has not been Chelsea’s star defender this season as Jose Mourinho went for a partnership of Gary Cahill and John Terry instead of having Luiz at centre back. Meanwhile, Dante still features for Bayern Munich’s starting XI and he played a part in their domestic double winning season. Dante should partner Thiago Silva, but Luiz will probably start alongside Silva.
Brazil should win this game easily. Croatia will be overly reliant on Modric and Rakitic to generate chances while Brazil have a dynamic attacking four with Neymar, Hulk and Oscar supplying Fred. Brazil also have a pretty good back four which should cover up Cesar’s rustiness, and their full backs are very good at pushing forward; expect Dani Alves and Marcelo to cause problems in Croatia’s wings.
Brazil 3-0 Croatia
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