The 32 teams in the World Cup are divided into 8 Groups of 4. These 4 teams play a round robin and the top 2 teams move to the next round. Group A is the first contest of all the Groups in the World Cup and it is contested by 4 teams- Brazil, Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon. Everything you need to know about these groups is going to be in this article.
Luis Felipe Scolari is the coach that led Brazil to World Cup glory in 2002. He is back to try and bring that success back to the country, but this time it is on a different stage- home soil. Brazil is a fantastic team with some great players in top teams. Thiago Silva has been referred to by many as the best centre back in the world, while up the field Neymar finished in the Top 10 of last year’s Ballon D’Or. You can expect Brazil to bring an unmatched amount of passion to their play as they try to capture their 6th FIFA World Cup.
Croatia has been, for a very long time, the dark horse of the football world. Although they have never been able to truly make their mark in the history books, this year coach Niko Kovac will try to navigate his way through a tough group in which “The Vatreni” aren’t overwhelming favourites. Luka Modric is arguably the best box-to-box central midfielder in the world, and he will play alongside Ivan Rakitic, who has led Sevilla to Europa League glory. In front of them, youngster Mateo Kovacic, who plays for Internazionale Milan, will form the triangle in Kovac’s preferred 4-2-3-1. Mario Mandzukic is a world class name that Croatians have been hyping up for a while now. Scoring 1 of the 2 goals in Bayern Munich’s treble winning Champions League Final (2012-13 vs Borussia Dortmund), he has been rumoured for a blockbuster switch to the Premier League.
Mexico has been the largest hope in the football growing continent of North America for the past couple tournaments. Recently, the going has gotten tough, and it has seen them fall behind Klinsmann’s USA and defensive masters Costa Rica. Although they just scraped their way into the World Cup, they still have to fight all the odds against their progression through the tournament. Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez is a brilliant finisher who plays for Manchester United. He and star striker Giovani dos Santos of Villareal form the front duo in Miguel Herrera’s 5-3-2 system.
Cameroon have an overwhelming lead over the rest of Africa in terms of qualification record. However, new African heavyweights such as Ghana and Ivory Coast seem to have rising stars that have been a part of their “golden generations”. As underdogs in the group, Cameroon will look to prove worldwide pundits wrong and showcase their talents through veteran Samuel Eto’o and Alexandre Song of Barcelona. Success for Cameroon could send a message of pride and hope to a struggling continent.
Strengths by Position:
None of the world’s best Goalkeepers are represented in Group A, but Julio Cesar of Brazil is probably the best goalkeeper in the Group. Considered one of the best goalkeepers in the last World Cup, Julio Cesar is now past his prime in his mid-30s and plays his part in a growing Toronto FC, on loan from QPR.
In the Fullback positions, Dani Alves and Marcelo of Brazil are 2 of the best in the world. Marcelo put in a fantastic showing in the UEFA Champions League final, playing the final 50 minutes of the game. Darijo Srna is a Croatian legend on the right flank, but he hasn’t been in the limelight for a while now, and makes an appearance in his potential last tournament for Croatia.
1st: Dani Alves, Brazil
2nd: Marcelo, Brazil
3rd: Darijo Srna, Croatia
Centre Back duos are part of the team base. Brazil’s Thiago Silva is part of the FIFA World XI 2013 and remains a very classy defender for PSG in Ligue 1. His partner, David Luiz, recently secured a transfer to PSG from Chelsea in the Premier League, and although he is error-prone and notorious for his stingy tackling, he plays a brilliant game for country, such as the one in the Confederations Cup Final 2013 against Spain. Croatia’s Dejan Lovren had a fantastic season with Southampton, which has seen him linked to Roma, Manchester United and Liverpool per Bleacher Report. He will hope to continue this into the World Cup.
1st: Thiago Silva, Brazil
2nd: David Luiz. Brazil
3rd: Dejan Lovren, Croatia
The anchor Defensive Midfielder position is the player that holds the team together. Often played just in front of the back 4, he connects the defence and the midfield. Croatia is unlikely to play this position in the World Cup dude to a surplus of creative box-to-box players. Luiz Gustavo of Wolfsburg is fantastic at this position, for Brazil. Alexandre Song of Cameroon is also a very strong defensive midfielder, the best in the group.
1. Alexandre Song, Cameroon
2. Luiz Gustavo, Brazil
The Box-To-Box position, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, are the glue of the team. Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric will provide a tireless engine for Croatia, while Paulinho will link up Gustavo and Oscar for Brazil.
1. Luka Modric, Croatia
2. Ivan Rakitic, Croatia
3. Paulinho, Brazil
The “Number 10” is referred to players who sit behind the striker and make plays for the striker and (usually) 2 wingers. This position is the most technical and tactical on the field. Oscar of Chelsea is a hard worker for Brazil, Mateo Kovacic is young and will make an impact for Croatia, and Giovani dos Santos is likely to drop to this position for Mexico. This will also include all attacking midfielders. Although none of the best players in the World will be lurking around this position, expect to see 3 young attacking midfielders with world class upside.
1. Oscar, Brazil
2. Giovani dos Santos, Mexico
3. Mateo Kovacic, Croatia
Wingers provide width and strength on the far sides of the field. They often provide crosses and run ins, and are the fastest players on the pitch. Ivica Olic of Wolfsburg will start here for Croatia, and Neymar and Hulk are superstars for Brazil. Mexico does not play wingers in their formation.
1. Neymar, Brazil
2. Hulk, Brazil
3. Ivica Olic, Croatia
Strikers are the gold of the game. The finishers and most famous players play in this area. All these teams play fantastic strikers, but the best are veteran Samuel Eto’o for Cameroon, Bayern Munich star Mario Mandzukic for Croatia, and Javier Hernandez for Mexico. Expect Fred to produce some great football for Brazil.
1. Mario Mandzukic, Croatia
2. Javier Hernandez, Mexico
3. Samuel Eto’o, Cameroon
4. Fred, Brazil
Matchups and Predictions:
There are many enticing fixtures in Group A. Let’s look at the fixtures and predictions.
Brazil vs Croatia:
Brazil will be hoping to clear the group, and a dominant showing against the strongest midfield will go a far way. Croatia will be looking to break a deadlock with Mexico that looks inevitable.
Brazil Left Flank: The Brazilian left flank counters the strongest Croatia flank. Neymar must pin Srna back, whereas Olic is hoping to beat Marcelo. Expect the Brazilians to win this tactical battle.
Brazil Anchor: The Brazilian anchor, be it Luiz Gustavo or Fernandinho, will be happy that Mandzukic is suspended for the match. If he can shut out Kovacic, chances cannot be created. He must also remain connected to Paulinho, otherwise the Brazilians will divide into 2 halves. This will be a problem because of Modric and Rakitic. Expect this tactical battle to decide the match.
Croatia Midfield: If Modric and Rakitic can shut out Paulinho, the anchor and Oscar or Bernard will not be connected. Modric and Rakitic can therefore attack. The Croatians can take it here.
Croatia Defence: Dejan Lovren is equipped with enough to stop Fred, but can Corluka team up to stop Oscar? Ultimately the Brazilians should win here.
Other than the midfield and the Croatia centre backs, these tactical battles are mismatched. Expect Croatia to put up the best fight against the favourites than any of the other teams, speaking tactically.
Overall Prediction: Brazil 1-0 Croatia; Goals, Neymar; MOTM Neymar
The Croatians won’t finish chances without their world class poacher, and Marcelo and Neymar will drive far too much on the left for the Croatians.
Mexico vs Cameroon:
This appears to be Cameroon’s best chance of pulling off an upset, whereas Mexico need to pick up 3 points to avoid a problem if they lose to Brazil in the next round robin.
Cameroon Attack: The 3 Mexican centre backs must prevent Eto’o from creating anything. If they fail at this, Cameroon will grab at least a goal.
Mexico Attack: Alexandre Song is needed to stop Giovani dos Santos, and the Cameroon defence will struggle to cope with Javier Hernandez. If dos Santos isn’t stopped, expect the Mexicans to score at least 2 goals.
Prediction: Mexico 2-1 Cameroon; Goals, Hernandez, dos Santos, Eto’o; MOTM dos Santos
In a scorefest, the Mexicans will just outplay the Cameroonians with a tactically sound display.
Brazil vs Mexico:
Regardless of the previous results, this could prove to be the most important game of the group for each team. If Brazil lose their first game, they will need to win to keep their chances of topping the group. Mexico will be hoping to pile on a good Cameroon result, although if they didn’t win the first game against Cameroon, advancing is unlikely. Croatia will be closely lurking for a slip up from either team as the two likely winners of the first set of matches will need to drop points for them to catch up.
Main Tactical Battles:
Brazil Defence: The only real match is the Brazilian defence. Brazil, from a tactical perspective, win in every other aspect. Their 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 is a stronger formation than Mexico’s 5-3-2, and their players are better. In this area, however, Thiago Silva will play close attention to the fastest player at the 2010 World Cup, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, and David Luiz will look to prevent Giovani dos Santos from linking the Mexican team to the Manchester United poacher.
Prediction: Brazil 2-0 Mexico; Goals, Fred, Oscar; MOTM Neymar
Expect Brazil to put up a flawless defensive display and for Oscar and Fred to score some fantastic goals, set up by Neymar.
Croatia vs Cameroon:
As Brazil and Mexico are both expected to beat Cameroon, Croatia must do the same to keep their chances of advancing to the next stages. Croatia will be looking for a result that isn’t a tie between Brazil and Mexico, especially if both sides win their first games. Cameroon need 3 points to avoid elimination from the Group at this stage, as beating Brazil to advance to the next round on goal difference through a Mexico Croatia draw is highly unlikely.
Croatia Defence: Lovren will hope to stop Cameroon’s biggest threat, Eto’o. in a challenge where if Lovren plays well, he surely won’t lose.
Croatia Attacking Midfield: Modric and Rakitic will have a huge amount of pressure on Alex Song, and if he breaks, Kovacic, Modric and Rakitic will be scoring goals for fun.
Croatia will mismatch Cameroon in every other category, especially because Mandzukic is back.
Prediction: Croatia 2-0 Cameroon; Goals, Mandzukic, Perisic; MOTM Mandzukic
Eto’o won’t have the pressure to split up Modric and Rakitic, and Eto’o will be very unlikely to create chances because of this. Expect a scintillating display from Rakitic.
Cameroon vs Brazil:
Brazil will have qualified for the next round if they won both of their first 2 matches, unless Cameroon wins one of theirs as well. Cameroon’s inevitable exit would be great if they do so by spoiling the day for the hosts, and Croatia and Mexico will battle it out for the second spot that seems deadlocked.
Brazil Defence: Brazil face the task of stopping Eto’o and any creativity that comes along with his striking. Keep an eye on Alex Song, who will be looking to spark a fantastic moment from anchor defensive midfield.
Alex Song’s Defensive Midfield: Alex Song must also try and stop Oscar and Paulinho from beating him, and he faces the unenviable challenge of trying to out-anchor Luiz Gustavo and, in tactical ways, David Luiz. Brazil will rip to shreds here.
All the others are a mismatch, and you can expect the biggest scoreline of the group in this match.
Prediction: Brazil 3-0 Cameroon; Goals; Neymar, Fred, Paulinho; MOTM Neymar
Neymar will leave the group stage with 2 goals, and expect him to win the golden ball if Brazil get even close to winning. 9 points for Brazil and 0 for Cameroon.
Mexico vs Croatia:
The closest match in the group, and the match that will probably decide 2nd place, Croatia and Mexico will play their hearts out in the best match of the group. The weather conditions give Mexico the nod, and the tactics give Croatia a nod.
Mexico’s 5-3-2 makes them weak on the wings, so expect Croatia to win there. Croatia has a better striker, and Mexico mismatch Croatia at their striking point. Croatia’s midfield will engine through the Mexico’s, while Mexico also has a better goalkeeper. There are no close tactical battles in this match.
This is the game to watch in the group, and expect moments of brilliance and passion in the match that will decide one of the most debated arguments in the Group Stages.
Prediction: Croatia 1-1 Mexico; Goals; Modric, dos Santos; MOTM Modric
Mexico’s lower difference will mean they need to win the match. Giovani dos Santos will score the opener from a scintillating play, but Croatia’s relentless pressure and composure will lead to an equalizer. Mexico will pressure through the last 20 minutes, but they will be deprived of the goal they need by some fantastic plays from Pletikosa (GK), Lovren (CB), and Corluka (CB). This match will be a can’t-miss thriller and a bee stinger. Croatia finish with 4 points and a +1 goal difference, Mexico will finish with 4 points and a -1 goal difference.
Final Prediction Table:
Brazil, 9 pts, +6 GD
Croatia, 4 pts, +1 GD
Mexico, 4 pts, -1 GD
Cameroon, 0 pts, -6 GD
Brazil will advance in 1st and Croatia will slip 2nd.
Match Schedule for Group A (Eastern Time):
Brazil vs Croatia: June 12 @ 4pm
Mexico vs Cameroon: June 13 @ 12pm
Brazil vs Mexico: June 13 @ 3pm
Croatia vs Cameroon: June 18 @ 6pm
Cameroon vs Brazil: June 23 @ 4pm
Croatia vs Mexico: June 23 @ 4pm
Be sure to follow Group A tightly, as there is plenty of room for an upset. Will Croatia and Brazil advance? Find out by watching the World Cup and tuning in to my reports.