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Brazil vs. Croatia: Bold Predictions for the Opening Match of World Cup 2014

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Brazil vs. Croatia: Bold Predictions for the Opening Match of World Cup 2014
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The stars of Brazil will face Croatia in the opening game of the 2014 World Cup at the Arena de Sao Paulo, as revealed in Friday's draw for the competition, per FIFA's official Twitter account:

While this isn't the mouthwatering prospect many hoped for to kick off the tournament, the Brazilian faithful will be more than pleased with a comfortable first fixture. Can Niko Kovac's team halt the power, pace and flair of Luiz Felipe Scolari's stylish side?

Before we run through some bold predictions for the competition's curtain raiser, here's a look at the draw in its entirety:

Bleacher Report
Bleacher Report

 

Croatia to Hush the Crowd With Early Goal

Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

If Croatia are going to upset Brazil on their own turf, the European side undoubtedly have to stop the home side from starting quickly.

Can Croatia score an early opening goal against Brazil?

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The Samba Boys are sure to play free-flowing, attacking football throughout the game, but the opening 15 minutes will set a vital trend for the rest of the match.

If Croatia stick 10 men behind the ball and look to counter, they will invite huge amounts of pressure into their half, a strategy that is likely to fail when Brazil's full-backs aid their forwards' offensive efforts.

Scolari's team are drilled to play exciting football, but an atmosphere of hush will infect the stadium if Croatia somehow manage to score early.

FIFA are yet to decide whether or not Mario Mandzukic will be suspended for this tie—his straight red in the recent playoff second-leg victory over Iceland perhaps affecting his availability—but Croatia still have the attacking players to cause Brazil trouble.

Should the likes of Luka Modric, Dario Srna and Ivica Olic arrive in top form, Scolari's men will have a real challenge to bypass from the off.

 

Stipe Pletikosa to Gain Clean Sheet, Win Man of the Match

Does Stipe Pletikosa have what it takes to gain a clean sheet and MOTM performance?

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Stipe Pletikosa, Croatia's likely No.1 for this match, could be in for a busy 90 minutes against the Brazilians. The 34-year-old, who plies his trade at FK Rostov of the Russian Premier League, will need to be in stunning form if he is to stop the home support bursting out in joyous cheer.

It took an excellent finish from Kaka to beat Pletikosa in Brazil's 1-0 win over Croatia at the 2006 World Cup, a match that frequently saw Pletikosa and Dida rescue their respective sides.

Pletikosa will need to be in the form of his life to frustrate the hosts into submission, but a couple of early saves could set the well-travelled goalkeeper along the road to heroics for the unfancied UEFA entrants.

 

Neymar With Opening Game Hat-trick

While many bold predictions are likely to consider Brazil missing their step at the first hurdle, let's not forget this is a team that comfortably bypassed the likes of Italy and Spain to capture the 2013 Confederations Cup title.

Can Neymar net a hat-trick in Brazil's opening game?

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Neymar scored inside the first three minutes during their 3-0 opening demolition of Japan and improved his game as the competition progressed. With the stakes at an all-time high, the Barcelona forward may step up to deliver an individual performance of special proportions against Croatia.

Just as Pletikosa could have a career-defining match that is packed with numerous saves, Neymar's dribbling prowess and ability to finish the ball could see him hit the back of the goalkeeper's net with regularity.

A hat-trick in the opening match—made even bolder if we opt for a "perfect" trio of goals—would strengthen Brazil's chances of capturing the title on their own turf and capturing their sixth world title, also known as the unprecedented "Hexa."

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