The World Cup officially kicks off on Thursday night with a very interesting Group A clash between hosts Brazil and Croatia.
The Selecao are feeling very confident after their Confederations Cup triumph last summer and are also expected to be the most refreshed team in the competition as they qualified automatically.
Brazil star Neymar provided a huge scare to the coaching staff on Monday as he suffered a minor ankle injury during practice. However, the Barcelona forward was able to pick himself up, complete training with the rest of the team and erase all doubts regarding his fitness ahead of the first fixture.
Manager Luiz Felipe Scolari is fortunate enough to have all hands on deck but Niko Kovac’s side will be missing the services of star striker Mario Mandzukic who is serving a one-match ban over a red card he received against Iceland in the last play-off clash.
The Blazers won both of their last two warm-up matches against Mali at home and Australia in Brazil. They are now looking to extend their undefeated streak and silence the raucous home crowd by relying on the formidable midfield duo of Ivan Rakitic and former Tottenham Hotspur player Luka Modric.
KICK-OFF: Thursday, 9pm
PAST TWO MEETINGS…
Brazil 1 (Kaka) Croatia 0, World Cup, June 2006
Croatia 1 (Kranjcar) Brazil 1 (Ricardinho), International Friendly, August 2005
Croatia have never beaten Brazil.
Shakhtar Donetsk defender Darijo Srna has amassed more caps than any other player in the history of the Croatia national team. On Thursday night he will be picking up his 114 appearance with the Blazers.
Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari returns at the World Cup after eight years with the same team he won it with back in 2002. He experienced his one and only defeat in the competition in 2006 with Portugal against France at the semi-finals. The former Chelsea boss has never picked up a draw in the World Cup.
This is the second time Brazil hosts the World Cup as the South American country held the competition back in 1950. The Selecao made it to the final round but lost the trophy to Uruguay.
Scolari’s squad have not conceded a single goal in their last two warm-up matches. Last time their net was breached was in a 2-1 friendly win over Chile last November.
Brazil is the most successful nation in the World Cup as they have won the trophy a record five times. Croatia obtained their best result in the competition in 1998 where they finished third.
Brazil to win: 1.3
Croatia to win: 11.1
TV: Live on ITV at 9pm
Back in his glory days, Kaka was the man that allowed Brazil to pick up their first three points at the 2006 World Cup with a beautiful and calm curling shot outside the box that ended up behind Stipe Pletikosa’s net.