2014 World Cup Brazil: Group A Preview

June 6, 2014

The 2014 World Cup in Brazil is under a week away, so in anticipation I’m going to get to work on Around The Corn and preview all eight groups individually before the tournament starts on June 12.

Many of my readers may not be all that familiar with the world football landscape heading into the tournament, and that is okay. My intent is to write these previews with those of you in mind, so that you might be able to enjoy the games a bit more.

Despite living in perhaps the only country in the world that does not treat futbol like a religion, I’m a huge fan of the game when it comes to the World Cup. So dive right in with me as we take a look at Group A, which features the host country and overriding favorite of the tournament.

Hi, My Name Is… (Players to Watch)

Neymar, Brazil forward

Tradition is that the most talented player on the Seleção squad wears number 10, and for this World Cup that man is Neymar da Silva Santos Junior. In last year’s Confederations Cup, where Brazil cemented itself as the odds-on favorite for the upcoming tournament, the 22-year old was responsible for four of the team’s 14 goals. With exceptional vision and ball handling skills, expect Neymar to touch the ball a lot when Brazil sets up an attack.

However, the best part about Neymar’s game is that he doesn’t always have to be the number one guy for Brazil to be successful. Thanks to a slew of talented cast-mates including Oscar and fellow forward Fred up front, Neymar’s creativity will likely mean lots of goals to go around for the Seleção. Stopping Neymar from scoring will be difficult enough for the other teams in Group A, but limiting his touches (which is the true key to stifling Brazil’s attack) will be nearly impossible.

Oribe Peralta, Mexico forward

Fans that don’t follow the Mexican national team all that closely may think that things still begin and end on the attack with Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, but El Tri actually has a much more productive scorer at its expense. Peralta led the squad with 10 goals in the qualification stage, including an astounding 5 goals in the two playoff matches against New Zealand that saved the team from the massive embarrassment of missing the World Cup altogether. He has been much more reliable than Chicharito in high pressure situations and is coming into the tournament healthy (Hernandez has struggled with knee issues).

If Mexico is to surprise people in its group, Peralta will likely be a key to the success. With a formidable defense behind him, it will be up to the striker to make the most of his chances near the goal, something that couldn’t always be said of El Tri in general during the qualification stage.

The Bully


It’s hard to explain to Americans just how important this World Cup is to the Brazilian people. The last time the country hosted a World Cup, in 1950, the home squad ripped through the tournament right up until the finals. Despite being far and away the best team up to that point, Brazil squandered its chance at glory by losing to Uruguay 2-1 in the deciding match. It was like a national tragedy.

Sixty-four years later, the Seleção gets a chance to redeem itself. The squad is the favorite coming into this tournament and the pressure on the team to perform could not be any higher. In fact, pressure might be the only thing that could unravel the Brazilian side. Anything less than the Cup would be considered failure because getting out of Group A seems like a near lock. If Brazil doesn’t advance to the knockout stage, it would be one of the biggest upsets in the history of the tournament.

The Underdog


The Indomitable Lions are no sideshow – Cameroon has made more World Cup appearances (7) than any other African nation, but the squad may simply be too old to give the other teams in Group A fits. Team captain and all-time leading scorer Samuel Eto’o is back again, but he’s 33 years old and the clock is ticking on his legs. However, major tournaments do seem to bring out the best in Eto’o, so perhaps we’ll see some magic from Cameroon this summer.

Cameroon failed to score even one goal in the 2010 World Cup and Group A is stocked full of capable defenders on the other three teams. It wouldn’t be overly surprising if that happened again this year.

Most Crucial Matches

Cameroon vs. Croatia (June 18, 6 PM ET)

If there is one game in this group that Cameroon could very realistically force into a 0-0 tie, it would be this one. While Croatia has a number of capable scorers up front, it is more concerned with protecting the back end and may opt not to attack aggressively in any of its matches. While that could mean a very boring game for Americans hoping for a plethora of scoring opportunities, it is just the type of chess match Cameroon could use to steal a point and make things interesting.

Croatia vs. Mexico (June 23, 4 PM ET)

A lot can happen in the week and a half prior to this game, but my gut tells me that this match will decide which team moves on to the knockout stage as 2A. With both squads possessing strong defensive pieces, it will be difficult for the strikers on both sides to have much room to work. However, those that do come up big will be regarded as heroes in their country. Expect physical play in and around the box and perhaps a few cards being handed out throughout the match. As the final game in Group A, it’s likely that the stakes will be “win or go home”.

How They’ll Finish (picks in bold move on to Knockout Stage)

1. Brazil – 9 points

2. Mexico – 6 points

3. Croatia – 3 points

4. Cameroon – 0 points

– K. Becks

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