FIFA World Cup: Spain Showdown Worries Brazil
Sao Paulo: Brazil will be anxious to avoid the nightmare scenario of a last-16 showdown with Spain as they launch into the World Cup.
Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side start as firm favourites to top Group A against Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon and then go on to win the cup for a sixth time.
But Scolari will have warned his side against the dangers of complacency. The penalty for failing to win the group could in all probability mean a meeting with Spain in the second round.
Sections of the Brazilian crowd booed the team after they made hard work of beating Serbia 1-0 on Saturday.
But Scolari remains confident. “I think we come into the World Cup in good shape. We are keen for things to get started now,” he said.
Brazil open the tournament against Croatia in Sao Paulo on June 12, a match that should be a formality for the hosts. The Croatians have not beaten Brazil in two previous encounters, which included a defeat in the 2006 World Cup.
Croatia finished a distant second to Belgium in the qualifiers, and were made to work hard before securing their place in Brazil with a 2-0 aggregate victory over Iceland in the play-offs.
Croatia’s task against Brazil has been made more difficult by the suspension of star forward Mario Mandzukic following the Bayern Munich striker’s dismissal for a stamp in the play-off win over Iceland.
On form Brazil would expect to take all three points in their second game against Mexico on June 17. Mexico only reached the finals following a play-off win over New Zealand after scraping fourth place in the CONCACAF qualifiers.
Yet while Brazil comfortably beat Mexico 2-0 at the Confederations Cup last year, the hosts know that on their day El Tri can be awkward opponents. And the Mexicans have a lot to prove after their narrow qualification.
Mexico defeated a strong Brazil side 2-0 in a June 2012 friendly and later that year scored an upset 2-1 win to deny Brazil a long-awaited first Olympic football gold at the London Games.
It remains to be seen whether Mexico can trip up Brazil once more. Their final preparations saw them suffer 1-0 defeats to Bosnia and Portugal. And the form of star striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez is a concern.
Mexico defender Hector Moreno believes the squad will benefit from being unburdened by expectation at home.
“We’re arriving under a lot less pressure than on past occasions, when people expected great things from the team,” he said.
“The general feeling is that we don’t have anything to lose, and that’s how we’re approaching it. I think that we’ll pleasantly surprise a lot of people.”
Mexico’s meeting with Croatia is likely to be the decisive game in the battle to see who joins Brazil in the last 16, with Cameroon’s “Indomitable Lions” arriving in Brazil in a familiar state of disarray.
The Africans only headed for Brazil after a last-ditch wrangle over pay and bonuses for the tournament was resolved