10 Pivotal Factors That Will Decide FIFA World Cup 2014 Group A
Group A at the 2014 FIFA World Cup has thrown up a very interesting combination of teams, with Brazil, Croatia, Cameroon and Mexico all set to do battle.
We've taken a look at 10 pivotal factors that will play a major role in deciding who qualifies and who doesn't, ranging from Brazil's star man to Croatia's question marks at defensive midfield.
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For Brazil, it's all about Neymar.
He's the key, the man everyone looks to get on the ball and the one who scores pivotal goals in Brazil's favour. Fred has emerged as the striker who can link with him the best, while Hulk's role is to simply stretch the pitch and give Neymar room on the opposite flank.
Marcelo runs forward to attract markers, while Oscar drags defensive midfielders infield to free up space.
Brazil's Defensive Stability
Brazil have been rock solid in holding midfield over the past year, with Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho studious in their defensive work.
But Fernandinho has gatecrashed the 23-man squad late on, and while he's a spectacular player himself, Luiz Felipe Scolari could lose some stability in his formation if he were to replace Gustavo, not Paulinho.
It all depends on how Scolari approaches it, but if he gets it wrong, Mexico and Cameroon can counterattack in fierce fashion.
Croatia's Midfield Make-Up
Niko Kovac is certain to play a 4-2-3-1 formation at the 2014 World Cup, but who he fields in the centre of the pitch is a question as yet unanswered.
For the Vatreni to make it out of a tough, physical group, they simply must put all three of their most creative outlets—Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic—on the pitch at the same time.
Whether that's Rakitic as a No. 10 and Kovacic out wide or Kovacic forward with Rakitic partnering Modric, it doesn't matter. Get them on the pitch.
Croatia's Lack of a True Holding Midfield
Unlike Brazil, who are spoiled for choice in the natural destroyer role for midfield, Croatia have a barren outlook in this position.
Ognjen Vukojevic is perhaps the most obvious answer but he's technically very limited, so Niko Kovac will have a tough decision to make with regard to protecting his back four.
Dejan Lovren, too, will be transitioning into a previously stable defence in place of the banned Josip Simunic.
Mexico's Defensive Stability
Miguel Herrera's team attack ferociously from their 3-5-2 base formation, flinging full-backs forward and attacking with two strikers.
Oribe Peralta is adept at slipping into channels and collecting through balls, while Giovani dos Santos looks an ideal fit dropping in between the lines.
Given the creaking, aging nature of the defensive line, though, is Herrera wise to play with such attacking freedom? El Tri's games will be exciting, end-to-end and filled with goals.
Mexico were dire during qualifying and brought Miguel Herrera in for the playoff vs. New Zealand.
They improved drastically, though the All Whites hardly provided competition, and Herrera's decision to play only Liga MX-based players paid off.
Now comes the hard part: Integrating the European-based Mexicans. Javier Hernandez, Andres Guardado and Diego Reyes boast undoubted quality, but can Herrera squeeze them in and create a happy equilibrium?
Javier Hernandez has barely played any football over the past 12 months, with David Moyes essentially locking him out of the Manchester United side.
"Chicharito" is still a very popular player among Mexico fans, though, and his presence in the team will be expect by many as El Tri approach the World Cup.
Will Miguel Herrera bow to the pressure? In his 3-5-2, he doesn't have a natural role given the manager's obvious preference for Oribe Peralta; Giovani dos Santos is the better selection as a deeper forward.
"Giving in" and playing Hernandez could make or break Mexico's chances.
Cameroon were looking a little lightweight up front until recently, with Maxim Choupo-Moting raw, Samuel Eto'o aging and Benjamin Moukandjo somewhat unpredictable.
But the rise of Vincent Aboubakar has opened things up for Volker Finke, and his 16 Ligue 1 goals for FC Lorient this past season have proved the doubters of his potential wrong.
With Eto'o dropping off into midfield and Aboubakar as a true striker, the Indomitable Lions may just have got their mojo back.
Home Pressure: Positive or Negative?
The 2013 Confederations Cup victory has only enhanced the belief that Brazil should win the 2014 World Cup on home soil—but is that positive or negative for the Selecao's chances?
Home pressure—emanating from fans, stadia, media and more—can crush or inspire a team. Luiz Felipe Scolari's men responded superbly during the dry-run, but better sides have succumbed to the expectation.
The 2nd Game
Friday, June 13 sees Mexico play Cameroon in the second game of the tournament. It's got the potential to make or break either teams' chances.
Rule No. 1 of tournament football, particularly when it's a three-game round-robin, is don't lose your first game. With Mexico and Cameroon the third- and fourth-strongest sides respectively, one defeating the other likely eliminates the loser.
After all, can either of the two sides beat Croatia or Brazil?