This post marks the first of eight World Cup Group previews on Fred Stanley Sport, where you can find all of the information you’ll need as you settle in to watch the greatest sporting event on earth. Each preview will take a look at the four teams in any given group, including odds on them winning the tournament and which player you should keep an eye on as the games get underway. First up is Group A, featuring the host nation Brazil who are favourites to add to their five World Cup wins this summer.
Best Finish – Winners (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
Odds – 3/1
The hosts of this summer’s festival of football are considered by many to be the country most likely to hoist the World Cup come July, primarily thanks to their success in the Confederations Cup on home soil last year. Barcelona ace Neymar leads the line for the men in yellow and despite a disappointing first season at the Nou Camp the young striker has often played his best football for his country, an ominous sign for Brazil’s Group A rivals. Big Phil Scolari masterminded the country’s victory in Japan and South Korea in 2002 and if he can recapture that magic on home soil he’ll cement himself as one of the greatest national team managers in the history of the game.
Best Finish – Third (1998)
Odds – 200/1
Croatia are due to take part in their fourth World Cup since they split from what was formerly Yugoslavia in 1990, having performed admirably for such a relatively new nation in their previous three campaigns. Their third place finish at France ’98 was an incredible achievement in their first ever World Cup, with the team led by Davor Suker, the Golden Boot winner with six goals. Real Madrid play maker Luka Modric is the lynchpin of the current squad and the diminutive midfielder has gone from strength to strength since he joined the European giants from Tottenham Hotspur, and if the 200/1 outsiders are to stand any chance of reaching the knockout stages in Brazil they’ll need him to perform at his peak. Bayern Munich striker Mario Mandzukic is also crucial to Croatia’s chances and the powerful front-man should give the Eastern Europeans a genuine goalscoring threat.
Best Finish – Quarter Finalists (1970, 1986)
Odds – 150/1
Incredibly, Mexico have been eliminated at the last-16 stage in each of the past five World Cup tournaments. That would appear to be the best they could hope for again as they head south to Brazil, with their lack of star power glaringly obvious with Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez the team’s only immediately recognisable face. “Chicarito” is coming off of his poorest season in English football, however, and he’ll need to rediscover his goalscoring touch if the Mexicans are to escape the group at the expense of both Croatia and Cameroon. Mexico’s familiarity with the South American climate should aid them in Brazil – whether or not it’ll be enough to see them enjoy a successful tournament and finally reach the quarter finals remains to be seen.
Best Finish – Quarter Finalists (1990)
Odds – 1000/1
Cameroon are the most successful footballing nation in Africa, having played in seven World Cups since they qualified for their first one in 1982. They were also the first African country to reach the Quarter Finals of the competition when they did so at Italia ’90, when they were famously defeated by England. However the chances of them achieving similar success in Brazil next month are small, with aging striker Samuel Eto’o their lone recognisable goalscoring asset. Eto’o scored some important goals for Chelsea in the 2013/14 season but the fact that he was ousted from the team by Senegal forward Demba Ba towards the end of the campaign signified his dwindling powers. Barcelona midfielder Alexandre Song will be the driving force in the Cameroon engine room, but besides him and Eto’o the Africans lack top level experience and their long odds reflect the pre-tournament view that they’ll struggle to stay off the Group A floor.
Brazil v Croatia – 12th June, Sao Paulo (21.00 GMT)
Mexico v Cameroon – 13th June, Natal (17.00 GMT)
Brazil v Mexico – 17th June, Fortaleza (20.00 GMT)
Cameroon v Croatia – 18th June, Manaus (22.00 GMT)
Croatia v Mexico – 23rd June, Recife (21.00 GMT)
Cameroon v Brazil – 23rd June, Brasilia (21.00 GMT)
Who do you think will qualify from Group A? Have your say in the comments or tweet @fredjstanley