Jun 9, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
World Cup hosts Brazil will get the big dance started on Thursday with a match-up against Croatia in what’s destined to be a wildly-memorable occasion. Roughly every other World Cup seems hosted by a country that can win it all, and this is no exception.
Let’s take another look at Group A (click on country name for full preview)
Brazil: The host country’s record since a Feb. 6, 2013 loss to England at Wembley? A shiny 16W-4D-1L. The clear favorites to become the fourth hosts to win the thing, Brazil will trot out a loaded team that arguably boasts a dozen of the top 20 players in the group.
Mexico: The odds were slim long before injuries hurt El Tri’s midfield depth, but Mexico will be hoping to handle Cameroon and spring an upset on Croatia or Brazil. Could be one of two Western Hemisphere teams help its cause?
Croatia: Have a shot to be the darlings of the tournament, though it will certainly hurt to be without Mario Mandzukic for the opener. With an array of stars including Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric, and Dejan Lovren, Croatia can do some damage at the World Cup.
Cameroon: Is this the team that drew Germany in Monchengladbach earlier this month or the one that struggled in a loss to Panama and 1-0 win over minnows Moldova? A lot is riding on Samuel Eto’o and company finishing the chances they get.
Who’s going through: It would take a monumental collapse for Brazil not to win the group, let alone advance to the knockout round. Croatia should also go through.
Who’s going home: Mexico’s midfield injuries will cost them their look at a big upset, while Cameroon’s inconsistency is too varied to expect them to wipe out Croatia or the hosts.
Marquee match: Bit of a cop-out, but how do you pick any match other than the first of the tournament? Brazil hosts Croatia on Thursday evening as two exciting teams get us started on the best month in sports.
Top players to watch:
5. Oribe Peralta, Mexico
4. Eto’o, Cameroon
3. Dani Alves, Brazil
2. Modric, Croatia
1. Neymar, Brazil
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