Time to stop dreaming. After years of waiting Brazil 2014 kicks off with the hosts taking on Croatia and all of the hopes, dreams and anticipations become one glorious reality as this Group A clash sets the tournament alight.
The weight of pressure is on favourites Brazil, but the Sao Paolo crowd should see a home win to ease the early nerves. Felipe Scolari’s side have faced some pretty weak opposition to win 15 of their last 16 matches but in the Confederations Cup they won every single game and three of their friendly victories were against Chile, Portugal and France to put a price of 1/3 for tonight’s friendly against Croatia into context.
They may have faced a tired Spain when thrashing them in the final of the Confederations Cup but a high tempo approach really worked in disputing the Spanish midfield and doing the same thing again to Rakitic, Modric, and Kovacic may well be just as effective given the danger that those three individuals present as individuals or a trio. Thankfully, Mario Mandzukic – the only player to score more than twice in the qualifiers – is banned for this first game, removing a huge threat given the amount of form that he carried through a double trophy winning season with Bayern in Germany
Croatia, as explained in the group preview, were not the most impressive in getting here, but a change of coach from Igor Stimac to Niko Kovac could see them leave that form well behind. It would be wise to remember that Croatia gave Spain tremendous problems in a 1-0 defeat and also drew with Italy at the group stages of that tournament.
On that form they can give Brazil serious problems and a tighter game than most are anticipating is expected, but Scolari’s side were much the better in beating Italy 4-2 at the group stages infront of their home fans and apart from a struggle to get past Urugay in the semi final, were never in any danger of suffering an upset of any kind.
And while people talk about Brazilian beauty – and if Oscar and Neymar are in the mood there can be plenty of it – the core of this side is going to take some serious breaking down with Thiago Silva marshalling a back four that’s well protected by Paulhnhio and Luis Gustavo, both deeply impressive defensive performers for country.
Since September, Brazil have let in just one goal, that being against the highly impressive Chile in a friendly a few weeks back, and while a tight match would be no surprise, Brazil have the tools to edge through with a clean sheet.
2 pts Brazil to win to nil (17/20 Sportingbet)