World Cup 2014 Group A preview: Brazil v Croatia
It took World Cup poster boy Neymar less than three minutes to officially declare the Confederations Cup open last summer. Brazil, Coral’s 3/1 favourites to take the global crown for a sixth time, take on Croatia as the greatest show on earth gets away.
Phil Scolari’s Samba Boys certainly flew out of the blocks at that World Cup warm-up tournament 12 months ago. Three of their opening goals in the five matches played en route to winning it came inside the first 10 minutes. Odds of 9/2 say Brazil will net the opener during that spell here.
The Group A odds-on favourites (1/4) are a similarly short price to beat Croatia at 1/3, and that is because of the strong form Big Phil’s boys are in, coupled with the fact that counterpart Niko Kovac cannot call on Mario Mandzukic, who is banned.
Since England held the Samba Boys to a draw in the Maracana last June, they have lost just one of 16, a self-inflicted Dani Alves own goal against Switzerland, and are on a winning streak of nine..
Even a draw here is a remote prospect at 4/1, with Eastern European outfit Croatia 8/1 to somehow spring a shock on Brazil. Scolari’s side have averaged three in every match (24 in eight) since crushing fellow finalists Australia 6-0 in September.
Drawing again on their performances at the Confederations Cup, where the Samba Boys hit 14 in five outings, odds of 2/1 on them getting over 2.5 goals in this opening game are tempting too.
Brazil, for all the defensive frailties occasional exhibited by PSG-bound David Luiz at Chelsea, have been solid at the back too. Six clean sheets in their previous seven, and just one goal conceded in the last five, explain odds-on prices for Big Phil to oversee another shut-out (8/15) and a win to nil (4/5).
Samba Boys star man Neymar is odds-on at 8/11 to score anytime against Croatia, after four in his last three internationals, but backing him to net the opener is better value at 3/1. He has grabbed the first goal eight times, from a total of 31 international strikes, as he prepares for his 50th cap.
Neymar is also 12/1 second-favourite to be tournament top scorer. Fellow forward Hulk has also hit a purple patch just before Brazil begin hosting duties. Three in his last five matches result in the Zenit St Petersburg man being evens to hit the target anytime.
Croatia, for what a two-legged play-off against Iceland and friendlies with Switzerland, Mali and Australia are worth, are unbeaten since Kovac succeeded Igor Stimac as national coach. In the absence of Mandzukic, their best hope of nicking a goal comes from three front men who are all familiar to English audiences.
Hull January signing Nikica Jelavic led the line well against the Socceroos in their last outing and netted the winner. He is 3/1 to score anytime. Ivica Olic, meanwhile, was once the scourge of England, and is attractively priced at 4/1 in that market despite his rugged style and advanced years.
The sentimental pick for Kovac here, though, is surely Brazilian-born Eduardo da Silva, formerly of Arsenal. He will be desperate to impress in his homeland, even if it is from a wide berth, and that is why he is 7/2 for a goal against the Samba Boys.
Ivan Rakitic, after a sensational Europa League winning campaign with Sevilla, will carry a threat from midfield, alongside ex-Spurs playmaker Luka Modric and young pretender Mateo Kovacic. Rakitic is 9/2 for a goal anytime, while Sammir, another expatriate like Eduardo, is the same price if involved.
Replicating the 3-0 win against Japan last year, when Brazil opened the Confederations Cup, is a healthy investment in the correct scoreline market here at 7/1. For what it’s worth, their only previous meeting with Croatia on the global stage finished 1-0 in Germany in 2006, and that precise result is 17/4 to happen again.