Group A is all about the hosts. Brazil expects to play a starring role at its own World Cup — and it begins with winning its group. With an entire nation on its side, it should be a relatively comfortable ride. Barring a dramatic decline in form, Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon are destined to scramble for the runner-up spot behind Brazil.
Players to watch
Neymar (BRA), Oscar (BRA), Luka Modric (CRO), Mario Mandzukic (CRO), Javier Hernandez (MEX), Oribe Peralta (MEX), Samuel Eto’o (CAM), Alex Song (CAM)
June 23, Recife: Croatia vs. Mexico. If Brazil lives up to its billing as group winners, this game could decide who accompanies the host into the round of 16. The Mexicans are aiming to make the knockout stages for the sixth straight World Cup while the Croatians could be weary from a punishing travel schedule.
Opening day curse. It shouldn’t happen, but occasionally it does. Once in while, the World Cup’s curtain raiser throws up a result nobody saw coming. Argentina in 1990 and France in 2002 paid the price -- losing to outsiders Cameroon and Senegal respectively. If Brazil suffers any first night nerves it could throw Group A wide open.
Handling the pressure of expectation didn’t faze the Brazilians at last year’s Confederations Cup. They won the test event in style, and it’s important for the team and its millions of fans that Brazil stamps its authority on the World Cup as soon as possible. Finishing second in Group A will be a mixed blessing. The reward may be a daunting tie against world champion Spain.