Brazil odds-on to be bouncing in World Cup opener with Croatia
Brazil and Croatia open World Cup 2014 in Sao Paulo, against a backdrop of strikes and protests, but Phil Scolari’s Samba boys will be hoping to put in a performance worthy of instilling national pride.
The tournament hosts were booed off the pitch at half-time in their final warm-up game against Serbia, and Scolari suffered personal tragedy this week, in what has been a tumultuous build-up to the grand unveiling.
Team news indicates that the hosts will field the same line-up they selected against current holders Spain, in the 2013 Confederations Cup-final, where they beat Vicente del Bosque’s boys 3-0.
Forwards Fred and Neymar both netted in that game, and are odds on at 10/11 and 8/11 to score anytime in this Group A opener respectively. Brazil fans will be hoping for a glut of goals, with the side having bagged a whopping 30 goals in their previous nine outings.
Energetic midfield pivot Paulinho and anchor-man Luiz Gustavo will likely play behind Chelsea’s Oscar, whilst a defensive unit of David Luiz, Thiago Silva, Daniel Alves and Marcelo should remain in place. Usually renowned for their attacking prowess, the Samba Boys have only conceded three times in their last 10 games.
This muted selection is no surprise, and indicates Scolari sees stability and team chemistry as essential to the hosts’ chances of parading the trophy on home soil.
Brazil begin their quest against Croatia, with Coral offering 3/10, the best odds in the market, for them to beat the Europeans.
Scolari’s Samba Boys have strength in all areas, with the position between the sticks their only seemingly obvious achilles heel.
Julio Caesar is a curious case, who, like so many of Jose Mourinho’s famous 2010 treble-winning Inter Milan team, has failed to sustain his world-beating form. The Goalkeeper, once arguably amongst the best in the world, has found his fortunes have turned drastically since that historic season. He joins the likes of Wesley Sneijder and compatriot Maicon in looking a shadow of his former self.
Caesar’s form is essential to a successful campaign, but the QPR-owned man has spent the last few months on loan at Toronto FC, after an ill-advised move to Loftus Road resulted in relegation. A jump in quality of opposition does not seem to have fazed the vastly experienced stopper, with the host nation keeping seven clean sheets in the last nine matches.
Brazil boss Scolari has kept faith in his number one throughout his fall from the dizzying heights of Champions League finals to MLS football. With so much mileage under his belt, the 34-year-old may just surprise his doubters.
With all eyes on the Samba Boys squad, Croatia will fancy their chances to cause an opening day upset, and are 12/1 to win.
In a blow to Niko Kovac’s team, Bayern Munich striker Mario Mandzukic is suspended for the clash. His size, strength and skill would have added an extra dimension to the European side, but former Arsenal forward Eduardo or Hull’s Nikica Jelavic are set to step in and deputise, with the pair at 7/2 and 3/1 to net anytime respectively.
Meanwhile, Genoa’s Sime Vrsaljko will replace injured Danijel Pranjic in the left back position.
In what may be music to Brazil’s ears, Blazers coach Kovac has promised attacking football from his side, which could leave experienced defenders Vedran Corluka, Dejan Lovren and Darijo Srna exposed to devastating counter-attacks.
With the South American side scraping a 1-0 victory against Serbia in their last warm-up match, Croatia could feel attack is the best form of defence.
Certainly, they have an abundance of technical quality in midfield, with pass masters Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Ivan Rakitic more than able to compete with their hosts in an offensive capacity. Whether or not they will be able to provide enough support and cover for the backline is another matter.
Sevilla’s Rakitic has netted 13 times in all competitions for club and country this campaign, and joins fellow midfield maestro Modric in having had an impressive La Liga season. The former is 16/1 to score first against the Scolari’s Samba Boys.
Spoiled with attacking options, the opening Group A game has 4/1 odds to end in a draw. However, if the Brazil squad can utilise home advantage, and take inspiration instead of intimidation from the baying crowd, the match should be in their hands.