World Cup Preview: Group A

This is the first installment of a series of previews of each World Cup group, starting today and finishing the day before the tournament begins. The world’s greatest sporting event is about to begin in only eight more days, and World Cup fever is upon us. It’s time to look at the first group of the tournament that will kick it all off: Group A.

 

Group A

Teams: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon

 

Brazil

How They Got Here: As the host nation for this World Cup, the earned an automatic bid into the tournament.

Schedule (all times local):

Croatia, Sat. June 12, 4 p.m., Sao Paulo

Mexico, Thurs. June 17, 3 p.m., Fortaleza

Cameroon, Weds. June 23, 4 p.m. Brasilia

Players to Watch:  If there is one Brazilian player who will have the most pressure on his shoulders, it will be Neymar. He has received a tremendous amount of hype since his move to Barcelona last year, and while he has not looked his best at his new club, he has impressed in the Brazilian kit. He has scored 30 goals in 47 international caps and his continued success is needed for Brazil to meet their lofty expectations.

 

Neymar shows off his skill against a foe he will soon be facing again.

Goalkeeper Júlio César will also be key for Brazil. This seems to be the weakest spot on this roster, and César will need to step up and prove his worth for his team.

What to Expect: You should expect this to be one of the most exciting teams to watch in the entire tournament. Brazil has always played a style of soccer which people love to watch, but with the motivation of the home crowd behind them, expect even more attacking, more skill and more goals from this side. You’re not going to want to blink during one of their games or you might miss something.

 

Croatia

How They Got Here: They finished second in their group in UEFA Qualifying and were one of the top eight of nine, meaning they advanced in the playoff round. In the playoff round, Croatia faced Iceland, who they defeated 2-0 on aggregate.

Schedule (all times local):

Brazil, Sat. June 12, 4 p.m., Sao Paulo

Cameroon, Wed. June 18, 6 p.m., Manaus

Mexico, Mon. June 23, 5 p.m., Recife

Players to Watch: Real Madrid’s Luka Modric is Croatia’s best player and will need to be at his best for them to advance to the next stage. In qualifying, Mario Mandzukic led the team in goals with four. A continued goal scoring presence from him would do wonders for this team. However, he will not be playing in the first game against Brazil due to suspension, so a scoring threat will have to come from elsewhere, most likely either from Eduardo or Nikica Jelavic. A rising star in the soccer world, Dejan Lovren will have lots of pressure on him as there are rumors swirling that he could be leaving his current club, Southampton, for greener pastures. This will his time to show that he is the real deal and to make himself a little bit more money on top.

What to Expect: Croatia can get any points out of their first game with Brazil that would help immensely in their quest to advance. This is a very talented squad, perhaps the best Croatian team since 1998. They will be able to fly somewhat under the radar with Brazil and Mexico in their group and not having the biggest of names, which should benefit them. Do not underestimate Croatia in this group. They have been playing some good soccer and have solid potential.

 

Mexico

How They Got Here: The qualification of El Tri wasn’t without drama. Mexico required some help from their arch rivals from the north in order to even have a chance to make the World Cup. The United States’ 2-0 victory over Panama allowed Mexico to take the fourth spot in the CONCACAF Qualifying Table, meaning they would play the winners of AFC Qualifying in a playoff to go to the World Cup. Mexico ended up defeating New Zealand 9-3 on aggregate to punch their ticket to Brazil.

Schedule (all times local):

Cameroon, Fri. June 13, 1 p.m., Natal

Brazil, Tues. June 17, 4 p.m., Fortaleza

Croatia, Mon. June 23, 5 p.m., Recife

Players to Watch: Javier Hernandez, commonly known as Chicharito, will have the spotlight on him. He was in poor form for Manchester United this last season and lost playing time, but he cannot let that get to his head now.

He is even in potential risk to lose his place as Mexico’s main scoring threat due to the outstanding form of Oribe Peralta as of late, who has been scoring goals left and right. Mexico is going to be one of the only teams in the tournament to play with three defenders, so captain Rafa Marquez is really going to have to step up to preserve their integrity on the back line.

What to Expect: To say that there is a lot of pressure on Mexico to perform well is an understatement. Over the last few years, El Tri have disappointed time and time again. Managers have been fired, players have been blamed and plenty of embarrassing moments have transpired. They are not in the easiest group, but qualifying for the Round of 16 is reasonable. If they are unable to do as and keep their humiliating form up, there could be a coup south of the border. They will either rise up and silence their critics or crumble once again, but this on the world’s largest stage. What unfolds could set the tone for North American soccer going forward for several years.

 

Cameroon

How They Got Here: Cameroon won their group in the second round of CAF Qualifying to make it to the third round, the playoff round, of the qualification. There they defeated Tunisia 4-1 on aggregate and earned one of Africa’s five World Cup berths.

Schedule (all times local):

Mexico, Fri. June 13, 1 p.m., Natal

Croatia, Wed. June 18, 6 p.m., Manaus

Brazil, Mon. June 23, 5 p.m., Brasilia

Players to Watch: Samuel Eto’o is Cameroon’s best known player and still a very integral component to their squad. He is not the striker he once was, but he still a quality player and will need to have an amazing tournament to help Cameroon advance.

There are some other experienced players on the Indomitable Lions’ roster, such as Pierre Webo, Benoit Assou-Ekkoto and Stephane Mbia. Their size and experience is what they have going for them heading into this tournament.

What to Expect: Not much. The expectations for this team aren’t very high, and while it will be fun to watch Eto’o, Mbia and the like have one more go-around together, the likelihood of competing in this group is low. Their more likely role would be as spoiler. Cameroon could certainly pull a draw or even a surprise win over Croatia or Mexico, the two teams that will likely be battling for the second spot in the group, which could kill their chances as advancing. Do not expect Cameroon to lay down and give up too easily.

 

Game-by-Game Prediction:

Brazil Croatia Mexico Cameroon
Brazil Brazil Brazil Brazil
Croatia Brazil Draw Croatia
Mexico Brazil Draw Draw
Cameroon Brazil Croatia Draw

 

Final Table Prediction:

Team Wins Losses Draws Points
Brazil 3 0 0 9
Croatia 1 1 1 4
Mexico 0 1 2 2
Cameroon 0 2 1 1

 

Justin Meyer
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Justin Meyer

Editor-In-Chief at The Left Bench
Justin co-founded The Left Bench in 2013, and ever since nothing was the same. He is a native of Columbus, Ohio, who has transplanted to the University of Maryland for college. He watches more college basketball than any one person should and is admittedly a 20-year-old curmudgeon.
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About Justin Meyer 209 Articles
Justin co-founded The Left Bench in 2013, and ever since nothing was the same. He is a native of Columbus, Ohio, who has transplanted to the University of Maryland for college. He watches more college basketball than any one person should and is admittedly a 20-year-old curmudgeon.