Brazil start favourites on home soil

Hosts launch the 2014 World Cup against Croatia hoping to erase memories of losing the last WC game they played at home.

Brazil's hopes rest with Neymar, the 22-year old Barcelona forward [AP]
Brazil's hopes rest with Neymar, the 22-year old Barcelona forward [AP]

The last time Brazil played at home in the World Cup, a 2-1 loss to Uruguay ended their hopes of a winning a first world title and plunged the country into a state of mourning.

When the Brazilians face Croatia in the opening match of this year’s World Cup 64 years after that tumultuous loss, the pressure to win will be just as huge. Defeat by Croatia at the Corinthians arena would not mark the end of Brazil’s World Cup chances.

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Brazil have played in the opening game of a World Cup on three previous occasions, beating Scotland (1998) and Mexico (1950) and drawing with Yugoslavia (1974).

Croatia have failed to register a win in their last four games at the World Cup. Their last victory was a 2-1 win over Italy in June 2002.

Brazil have won their opening game at the last eight World Cup tournaments.

It would, however, deflate a nation of 200 million people who expect the home team not only to win this match but every one of their games over the next month. Nothing except a sixth world title will suffice.

The omens are good for a positive result against Croatia as no host nation has ever lost their opening match in the World Cup.

Brazil are favourites not just because of their great World Cup record but also because Luiz Felipe Scolari’s team have won 15 of their last 16 games, including five in a row to win last year’s Confederations Cup. Scolari has no injury doubts and barring any late surprises the team that lines up against Croatia is expected to be the same one that beat Spain in the final 12 months ago.

Julio Cesar will be in goal, hoping to bury the ghosts of 2010 when his error against the Netherlands led to Brazil’s elimination in the quarter-finals.

Thiago Silva and David Luiz will be in the heart of the defence, with Marcelo and Dani Alves on the flanks.

Paulinho, Luiz Gustavo and Oscar will form a three-man midfield, with Neymar and Hulk working between them and centre forward Fred.

Brazil’s hopes rest with Neymar, the 22-year old Barcelona forward who seems to rise to the occasion when wearing a yellow shirt.

Croatia, meanwhile, are missing some of their top players.

Banned centre-back Josip Simunic and long-term casualty Ivan Strinic were written off before Niko Kovac named his squad, left back Danijel Pranjic was ruled out of the opening fixture with an ankle sprain and Gordon Schildenfeld is doubtful with a hamstring problem.

That means Kovac will probably field Sime Vrsaljko on the left and the inconsistent Dejan Lovren could be deployed alongside the tried and tested Vedran Corluka in the middle.

Source: Reuters

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