3 Players to Watch on Day 1 of the 2014 World Cup
The FIFA World Cup is now very nearly upon us, with the opening game at this summer’s much-anticipated tournament set to finally get underway when host nation Brazil take on Croatia in Group A at the Arena Corinthians on Thursday.
And ahead of that mouth-watering first encounter at Brazil 2014, we highlight three players to watch in Sao Paulo, with all stats provided by transfermarket.
DAVID LUIZ (Brazil)
International debut: Aug 2010 v US
The soon-to-be world's most expensive defender is sure to play a pivotal role if Brazil are to go on and win the World Cup on home soil this summer, starting with Thursday's key Group A opener against Croatia at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo.
Luiz, who will complete his startling £48m move from Chelsea to Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the tournament according to the Independent, has been tasked with keeping it tight at the back alongside his captain Thiago Silva during the competition, while his more attack-minded and talked-about team-mates do the damage at the other end of the field.
However, as Brazil legend Pele admitted to the BBC, the host nation's hopes of winning a sixth world title next month actually rest in Luiz and his fellow defenders’ hands.
"For the first time in history, Brazil has a defence better than they attack," said the 77-year-old.
In fact, nowhere was that better illustrated than during last year's FIFA Confederations Cup, which the hosts won for a fourth time in their history after destroying world champions Spain 3-0 in a final in which Luiz in particular was outstanding.
And if the 27-year-old can produce more spectacular goal-line clearances like this one to deny Pedro in that win against La Roja last July, then a first World Cup since 2002 could soon very well be on the cards.
The most noticeable head of hair at the World Cup has gone. David Luiz has been sheared. pic.twitter.com/9M19chAqhT— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) June 10, 2014
LUKA MODRIC (Croatia)
Club: Real Madrid
Position: Central midfield
International debut: March 2006 v Argentina
The Croatia international may not be so instantly recognisable now after recently having his flowing blond locks cut off; however, it should not be too hard to spot the ball-playing midfielder at the Arena Corinthians on Thursday.
Just keep your eye out for the little magician sitting deep in front of his country's back four when they take on hosts Brazil in their opening Group A clash in Sao Paulo.
This is the new position Modric now occupies following an outstanding club season with Real Madrid, easily the best to date of the player's 11-year professional career.
The 28-year-old, who will have the all-action Ivan Rakitic alongside him in the middle of the park in one of the most eye-catching central-midfield partnerships on display in the tournament, is already one of the best players in his position in the world according to Slaven Bilic.
The former Croatia coach told the Daily Mirror:
OK, so I'm not objective when I talk about him. But he is, for me, one of the best midfielders in the world.
Luka is in the same category as Xavi was a few years ago with Barcelona or Andrea Pirlo has been for Italy.
All the players around him gain from his game. He makes them 10 to 20 per cent better than they actually are. And you’'l see this at the World Cup.
And if the underdogs are to create an upset against the five-time world champions, then you feel it will be the diminutive playmaker pulling the strings for the tiny Balkan nation.
Club: FC Barcelona
International debut: Aug 2010 v US
If Brazil are to win their first World Cup for 12 years on home soil this summer, then star man Neymar must show just why FC Barcelona splashed out a whopping €57.1 million to secure his services from Santos last year, starting in Thursday's Group A opener with Croatia.
However, that means the pressure of a whole nation will well and truly be on the hugely talented forward, who is also the poster boy of the tournament.
"Neymar is young. It is a heavy pressure for him to get all the responsibility," Brazilian legend Pele told BBC Sport.
VIDEO: Injury scare for Brazil's Neymar: http://t.co/jhSRfj8c0z— BBC Football News (@bbcfoot) June 10, 2014
Meanwhile, given the disappointing way in which Neymar's debut campaign with Barca fizzled out after the new year, some have questioned whether the 22-year-old will be able now to inspire his country to a sixth world title.
But despite this being the Brazilian's first-ever appearance in the World Cup, Neymar did serve notice of his intentions at this year's competition by winning the Golden Ball at the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup.
And with seven goals to his name already during the Selecao's recent impressive run of nine friendly victories in a row heading into Thursday's first contest with Croatia, the quick-footed superstar appears in the mood to kick off the global showpiece event with a bang in Sao Paulo.