June 12th 2014 - 17:00 Local Time (16:00 EDT, 22:00 CET)
Arena Corinthians, Sao Paulo (Capacity 61,606)
The 2014 World Cup opening match could be considered the best opener by far as FIFA Rankings are concerned as #3 Brasil takes on #18 Croatia (combined ranking of 21, average is 10.5). Since the current FIFA Ranking system was introduced (in 1999) other openers have featured France vs Senegal (#1 vs #42, combined 43, avg 21.5) in 2002, Germany vs Costa Rica (#19 vs #26, combo 45, avg 22.5) in 2006 and South Africa vs Mexico (#83 vs #17, combo 100, avg 50) in 2010.
Looking back before the current ranking system was in place, we could subjectively try to find an opener with 2 teams of such quality. In 1990, reigning champions Diego Maradona & Argentina took on Cameroon during the African team's glorious run of form to the Quarter Finals that year... but I think 2014's opener is still a better match. 1982's opener pitted Argentina vs Belgium and 1974 had Brazil vs Yugoslavia and those may rival this year's opener. As you can see, this year's opener ranks as one of the very best of all time, and certainly the best in a long time!
The opening match of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil sees the hosts go up against a capable Croatia side who will be looking to rise to the occasion as the world watches. Brazil are the favourites to win the tournament while Croatia will be looking to beat off competition from Mexico and Cameroon in Group A to progress to the knockout stages.
The pressure on Brazil to win the tournament will be huge, weighing down on them the whole competition, but if there is anything to take away from the Confederations Cup it is they can handle it, and handle it with style. For once Brazil’s attack may be outshone in their own country, but not by another teams attack, but their own opposite end. In last year’s Confederations Cup, Brazil managed to score fourteen goals in five matches, but their defence rivalled their star-studded attack by conceding only three goals in five matches. The rock-solid backline featured Barcelona’s Dani Alves, Paris Saint Germain new boy David Luiz, Paris Saint Germain captain Thiago Silva and Real Madrid’s Marcelo. Never has a Brazil defence shown as much chemistry as they did. Playing in front of its own fans The Samba Boys are sure to play free-flowing, attacking football throughout this game. The squad led by coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has won 13 of its last 14 matches at the time of writing including that 3-0 win over Spain in the Confed final and should carry that confidence into this match. Scolari has put together a squad that mixes talent and competitiveness which also features 16 players who were in the Confederations Cup last year. Oscar and Hulk are two major threats going forward while Fred will lead the line but the brightest star for the Brazil national team is Neymar. Although having a roller coaster of a debut season at Barcelona, Neymar can redeem himself as the most promising talent in the world by putting on a show in Brazil. The number 10 for the Samba Boys already has impressive international statistics, with 30 goals in 47 appearances in the famous yellow and green. It is no secret Neymar is key to Scolari‘s team, as his pace, flair, trickery and finishing for Brazil has put him in a class of his above the rest of his fellow attackers. At the Confederations Cup last year, Neymar ran multiple defences ragged.
Croatia coach Niko Kovac named his 23-man squad for the World Cup led by experienced stars including Luka Modric of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich striker Mario Manduzkic. However, one disadvantage the Croats will have in their opening game against the hosts is the absence of Mandzukic who will be serving a one match ban after receiving a red card against Iceland in the play-offs. Modric has mastered the playmaker role and inserted himself as a key figure of the Real Madrid midfield and will be relied upon to bring that form to this tournament for Croatia to stand any chance of winning it. Another player to watch will be Sevilla star Ivan Rakitic. Rakitic was probably the best La Liga player this past season if you don’t include players in the ranks of Real, Atletico Madrid or Barcelona, having led his team to Europa League glory. The midfielder is technically sound, versatile, creative in possession and regularly tracks back to help out defensively. Croatia will look to him to supplement the goal threat of Mario Mandzukic. With Mandzukic out Croatia shouldn’t stress too much as they have \ options to lead their line. Ivica Olic, together with Ivan Perisic, could not stop scoring for Wolfsburg and almost led the team to fourth place in the Bundesliga. The same thing can also be said about Eduardo for Shakhtar, playing a key role at the end of their campaign. Defensively they have Southampton top performer Dejan Lovren amongst their ranks and he will be up to the task of stopping the likes of Neymar and Hulk. The “Fiery Ones” competed closely with Belgium throughout Group A of the UEFA qualifiers before struggling at the finish line. The team finished second in the group and had to do battle with Iceland to qualify.
The last time these teams met was in their first match of the 2006 World Cup with the Brazilians getting maximum points with a 1-0 win. This is a Brazil team that comfortably bypassed the likes of Italy and Spain to capture the 2013 Confederations Cup title and should come out of their first match with all three points.
FIFA Video on Sao Paolo:
and here are some pre-match stats:
Brasil (WWWWWW) has won it's last 6 matches with a Friendly vs Serbia on Friday, Croatia (WDWDLL) on the other hand is 2-2-2 in it's last 6 games coming into Friday's Friendly vs Australia.