Brazil will attempt to start their run at a sixth World Cup title, but the first step is getting past Croatia in the tournament's opening match.
The hosts of the international event came into the summer as one of the top contenders to bring home a title, along with Spain, Germany and a few others. However, nothing is guaranteed at this exciting event and every match will be a challenge.
Croatia will make sure of that early as one of the more underrated teams in the world. The European squad is hoping to surprise people with a deep run in this tournament, and a positive result in the first match will go a long way.
This is certain to be an exciting moment for everyone watching around the world, so make sure you do not miss a second of the action.
When: Thursday, June 12
Where: Arena de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Time: 4 p.m. ET, 9 p.m. BST
Live Stream: ESPN3
Odds (via Oddsshark): Croatia (+1000), Brazil (-375), Draw (+475)
Brazil Starting XI Prediction
|Brazil Starting XI Projection (4-2-3-1)|
Brazil are using essentially the same squad that won the Confederations Cup last summer, so the lineup should also remain about the same.
Julio Cesar will remain the No. 1 goalkeeper despite his age at 34 years old. He was once the best in the world at his position, and his experience will be invaluable to this young team.
The defense is also as secure as there is in the world with Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz and Marcelo. Each of these players has succeeded not only with their clubs but also at a high level in Champions League and other international events.
There is much less experience in the midfield and attack, but the players certainly make up for it in talent. Youngsters like Neymar and Oscar will pair with Fred and Hulk to create a dangerous lineup that can score at any time.
As Dan Walker of Football Focus notes, this lineup includes some of the best players in the sport:
If this team can play to its ability, there is no question it should bring home a title.
Croatia Starting XI Prediction
|Croatia Starting XI Projection (4-2-3-1)|
The strength of this team is in the midfield and specifically Luka Modric. The Real Madrid star is coming off a fantastic performance in UEFA Champions League in which he brought the Spanish giants to their 10th European Championship.
Looking forward, Modric explained to Aleksandar Holiga of ESPN FC, "The title I won will only give me additional strength and motivation to play well at the World Cup."
If he can control possession and make plays, it will give Croatia a legitimate chance to succeed. He will play alongside Ivan Rakitic and young star Mateo Kovacic in an extremely talented midfield, though it will be missing Niko Kranjcar.
On the other hand, another absence will hurt Croatia in this match. Mario Mandzukic was called for a red card in the final play-off match and will face a one-game ban in Brazil.
As a result, the squad will have to rely on either Nikica Jelavic or a veteran talent like Eduardo or Ivica Olic. Either way, this is a big drop off from the Bayern Munich star.
Defensively, Darijo Srna will lead a solid unit to try to slow down an aggressive Brazilian team.
Match Prediction: Brazil 2, Croatia 0
Croatia have a bunch of talent that may allow them to advance to the knockout stage. The midfield especially can control the pace of the match against most teams and create opportunities up front.
However, they are facing a true powerhouse in Brazil that has world-class talent at every spot on the pitch.
The South American squad is one of the favorites to win the title, something that Goldman Sachs agrees with in its statistical analysis of the tournament. The research notes that the home-field advantage helps significantly:
Home advantage is an important predictor of international football matches. According to our model, it is worth an extra 0.4 goals scored per match, adjusting for all the other parameters in the model...The home team has won 30 percent of all World Cups since 1930, and over 50 percent of all World Cups held in a traditional football powerhouse (Brazil, Italy, Germany, Argentina, Uruguay, Spain, France and England).
Playing in Sao Paulo in front of home fans excited to kick-start the World Cup, Brazil should come out strong. Add this to the absence of Mandzukic, and Croatia will have a hard time keeping up throughout the match.
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