The anticipation for the World Cup has come to a close. It’s time for matches to be played and the fun to begin. The opening day of the tournament has Brazil playing Croatia. It’s the lone match of the day as the host country will be showcased in Sao Paulo. I’m going to preview each World Cup game, and give a prediction and who I think will score. The results in “similar” pre-World Cup friendlies will be included in most of my previews during the group stage.
Match: Brazil vs. Croatia in Sao Paulo
Results in “similar” pre-World Cup friendlies: Brazil defeated Serbia in Sao Paulo 1-0 on June 6. Croatia and Serbia are neighboring countries and were part of Yugoslavia. Croatia didn’t play a South American team before the World Cup but arrived to Brazil early to play a friendly against Australia in Salvador. Croatia won the match 1-0.
What to watch for: Expectations are obviously high for Brazil and we’ll get to see how they handle the pressure of playing at home. The matchup that sticks out to me is the battle in the midfield. Croatia’s greatest strength is the central midfield duo of Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric. Both can play in attacking roles but I think Croatia will use the pair as holding midfielders to try to disrupt players like Oscar and Neymar. Mario Mandzukic is suspended after picking up a straight red card in Croatia’s last World Cup qualifier. The current Bayern Munich striker could be replaced in this match by Nikica Jelavic. I expect Croatia to play very conservatively and hope to get a point in their first game of an average Group A.
Players to watch: Modric has had breakout performances for Croatia in past tournaments. Rakitic, who is rumored to be going to Barcelona this summer, can make a great impression this tournament. He will need to support Modric for Croatia to do well in this match. The Croatian back line, especially at center back, has some questions marks so players like Fred and Hulk can make a statement in this game.
Prediction: Brazil 2 (Hulk, Oscar), Croatia 0
I think Brazil will start out with some nerves but will draw first blood in the first half through Hulk. Oscar will be rewarded with strong play by scoring in the second half.