The World Cup draw has been held and I will now analyse all the teams in depth, group by group, over the next few weeks. After I have done this I will give my prediction as to who will win the World Cup. I hope you enjoy the first instalment of my World Cup preview as I look at the teams in Group A. Note: The world rankings used in this preview are correct as of the 28th of November 2013.
Teams (world ranking in brackets): Brazil (10), Croatia (16), Mexico (20), Cameroon (51)
Brazil vs Croatia, Sao Paulo
Mexico vs Cameroon, Natal
Brazil vs Mexico, Fortaleza
Cameroon vs Croatia, Manaus
Cameroon vs Brazil, Brasilia
Croatia vs Mexico, Recife
Coach: Luiz Felipe Scolari
Captain: Thiago Silva
World Cup Appearances: 19 (1930, 1934, 1938, 1950, 1954, 1958, 1962, 1966, 1970, 1974, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010)
Best Result: Champions (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
Qualification Top Scorer: N/A
Brazil are hosting this edition of the tournament, meaning that they did not have to qualify. The Brazilians have, however, had an excellent recent run of form. They also won the Confederations Cup in June, defeating reigning World Champions Spain 3-0 in the final.
Brazil are excellent and have great depth, especially in the back four (Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Dante, Marcelo, Dani Alves and Maicon), and in attack (Neymar, Fred and Hulk). This depth in two key areas helped them win the Confederations Cup this year, and will no doubt assist them in the World Cup. They are also extremely tough to beat at home, meaning that hosting is a huge advantage.
Brazil may have the home-ground advantage and excellent depth, but they fall slightly short in the goalkeeping area. First choice keeper Julio Cesar has not been given regular game-time at English Championship club QPR, and this is a real worry for the Brazilians, who will have a lot of pressure placed upon them after their Confederations Cup victory. This pressure may have a detrimental effect upon the team.
Coach: Niko Kovac
Captain: Darijo Srna
World Cup Appearances: 3 (1998, 2002, 2006)
Best Result: 3rd Place (1998)
Qualified: Second Group A, defeated Iceland in play-off
Qualification Top Scorer: Mario Mandzukic
Croatia were drawn in a tough first round group in qualification, with Belgium the main threat. Croatia did keep up with the Belgians at the start, but home and away losses to Scotland dashed their hopes of automatic qualification. They were, however, given a relatively easy play-off draw (Iceland), and a 2-0 victory in Zagreb sent them through.
Croatia are a solid team, and they only conceded 9 goals over the course of the qualifying campaign. There is a great group of strikers playing at top European clubs, with Mario Mandzukic (Bayern Munich) leading the line. The defence is another area of particular strength, with captain Darijo Srna setting up attacks from right back. In the centre Josip Simunic and the in-form Dejan Lovren are there to protect the keepers. The midfield is also strong, with players such as Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic setting up chances.
Croatia lack a first choice keeper, with Stipe Pletikosa and Danijel Subasic the two main options. Pletikosa was chosen for the second leg against Iceland, but he is 34 and it may be time for a new first choice. Subasic, now at Monaco, or Ivan Kelava, at Udinese, are the obvious options, as I think that they will play well if given the chance. Mandzukic also needs help in goalscoring. He scored four goals in qualifying, and the next best was two (Eduardo). Eduardo, Ivica Olic and Nikica Jelavic will need to step up if Croatia are to have success.
Coach: Miguel Herrera
Captain: Rafael Marquez
World Cup Appearances: 14 (1930, 1950, 1954, 1958, 1962, 1966, 1970, 1978, 1986, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010)
Best Result: Quarter Finals (1970, 1986)
Qualified: 4th in CONCACAF qualifying, defeated New Zealand in intercontinental play-off
Qualification Top Scorer: Oribe Peralta (8)
Mexico easily made it through a third round group consisting of Costa Rica, El Salvador and Guyana, but were lucky to scrape through the hexagonal. After a defeat at the hands of the USA they dropped to fifth, but made it to fourth after edging out Panama. They qualified after beating New Zealand 9-3 on aggregate.
Mexico have had recent success in the world cup, reaching the round of 16 in the past 5 tournaments. In Oribe Peralta, Aldo de Nigris and Javier Hernandez the Mexicans have three world-class strikers, and Giovani dos Santos was a revelation in the 2010 finals. Rafael Marquez, Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Salcido bring experience to the defence.
Mexico don’t have a great deal of depth, with a particular lack of top-class midfielders. This is coupled with a lack of top class players who play their football in Europe. The European stars include Hernandez, dos Santos, keeper Guillermo Ochoa, Javier Aquino, Hector Moreno and the out-of-favour Carlos Vela. Whether these players will be used in the finals is uncertain, as the squad for the matches against New Zealand was made up entirely of Mexican-based players.
Coach: Volter Finke
Captain: Samuel Eto’o
World Cup Appearances: 6 (1982, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2010)
Best Result: Quarter Finals (1990)
Qualified: 1st Group I, defeated Tunisia in play-off
Qualification Top Scorer: Samuel Eto’o, Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting, Jean Makoun (2)
Cameroon were lucky to make it through the CAF Group I, narrowly edging out Libya for first place and earning a play-off berth, where they were drawn to play Tunisia. After an away draw the Indomitable Lions won 4-1 at home to seal qualification.
Cameroon have strength all over the park. They have a solid defence with players such as Nicolas N’Koulou, Aurelien Chedjou, Dany Nounkeu, Joel Matip, Henri Bedimo, Gaetan Bong and Benoit Assou-Ekoto. Strikers Vincent Aboubakar, Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting and Samuel Eto’o are all playing in the top tiers of Europe, with the latter currently playing for Chelsea. Alex Song and Stephane M’Bia make sure that the midfield is solid.
Cameroon suffer from not having enough back-ups. The defence is in great condition, but an injury in attack to either Eto’o (who hasn’t had a great start to the season with Chelsea) or Choupo-Moting could have a very bad impact upon the goalscoring department. The supply chain is not especially strong. In the last World Cup they lost all three matches, and they will be hoping this doesn’t happen again.
I think that this will be an interesting group, but Brazil should finish comfortably in first. The real battle will be for second, as Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon should be very evenly matched. Expect to see some great contests.
1. Brazil, 2. Croatia, 3. Mexico, 4. Cameroon
Next Week: I preview group B, which will be sure to excite with some very competitive matches.