World Cup Group A Preview: Brazil Should Coast To Knockout Rounds

Neymar, Dani Alves and FredOther than death and taxes, there’s one guarantee in life: Brazil will advance to knockout rounds of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Host nation Brazil is the leading contender to win the World Cup, so it only makes sense that it would coast through Group A. Head coach Luis Felipe Scolari and his stable of stars will encounter a reasonable level of competition against Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon, but their first three games are merely the warm-up act for the the real show that is the knockout rounds. Expect Brazil to win all three.

Historically, Cameroon has qualified for the World Cup with ease, only to find that the tournament itself is a tougher proposition. The Indomitable Lions aim to reach the knockout rounds for the second time in their history (1990 being the other), but they’ll need luck and unity to do so. Cameroon must maximize its points haul in its first two games — against Mexico and Croatia — because it likely will fall to Brazil in its Group A finale. We’re expecting Cameroon to suffer elimination in the group stages.

Croatia won’t replicate its third-place finish of 1998, but it has a good chance of reaching the last 16 in 2014. Head coach Niko Kovač is young and inexperienced, but his team has plenty of talent and confidence. Croatia can build serious momentum by earning at least a point in its opener against Brazil. While that probably won’t happen, Croatia can, and should, win its remaining two games.

Mexico is the wild card in Group A. El Tri has struggled for much of the last 18 months, but head coach Miguel Herrera can erase those memories and become a national hero by leading his team into the knockout phase. Should Herrera’s blended squad of young and old, foreign- and domestic-based players gel (they haven’t yet), beat Cameroon and perform well against Brazil, Mexico will be well-positioned to face Croatia in a “winner-takes-all” showdown. This is a best-case scenario, and Mexico probably won’t come together in time to escape the group.

Group A Schedule (all times ET)
Brazil vs. Croatia, 4 p.m., June 12
Mexico vs. Cameroon, noon, June 13
Brazil vs. Mexico, 3 p.m., June 17
Croatia vs. Cameroon, 6 p.m., June 18
Brazil vs. Cameroon, Croatia vs. Mexico, 4 p.m., June 23

Can’t-Miss Games
The mouths of soccer fans around the world are foaming in anticipation of the start of the World Cup, and Brazil-Croatia will satisfy their thirst. Brazil-Mexico should be easy on the eyes, although there is little doubt about the result. Mexico-Croatia could be the most competitive and pivotal game of the group, depending on how things play out.

Players To Watch
— Neymar, Brazil’s star forward, is expected to light up the World Cup, but also pay attention to central defenders David Luiz and Thiago Silva — two of the best in the world at their position.

– Cameroon captain Samuel Eto’o still can score at the highest level. The 33-year-old leads his team, while Joel Matip, 22, is one of Africa’s brightest young talents.

– Croatian midfielders Luca Modric and Ivan Rakitic won the UEFA Champions League and Europa League with Real Madrid and Sevilla, respectively, in 2013-14. The pair will look to dictate their team’s tempo in Brazil. Striker Mario Mandzukić is suspended for the Brazil game, but he could play a major role upon his return.

– Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa could establish himself as a world star and earn a move to one of Europe’s leading clubs if he performs well. If the legs of Francisco Rodriguez (32), Rafael Márquez (35) and Carlos Salcido (34), hold up, Mexico could ride a sturdy defense into the Round of 16.

Predicted Order Of Finish
Brazil (9 points), Croatia (4 points), Mexico (4 points), Cameroon (0 points)

Other Previews
Group B l Group C l Group D l Group E l Group F l Group G l Group H

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