This week we take a look at what Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, and Cameroon are bringing to the tournament.
(Photo: AFP / Getty Images)
With the World Cup just right around the corner (ok, like a really big corner), we’ll be taking some time every Friday to investigate the best ball-kickers (it’s a technical term, don’t worry about it) of each World Cup group. Today, Group A!
The home nation didn’t have to bother with any pesky qualification nonsense (the host is automatically granted the first berth), but they do have to bother with nationwide expectations to go very deep in the tournament on their own soil. Brazil was dismissed in the quarterfinals of the last two World Cups, but with Pele in attendance, a Confederations Cup win last year (sort of a warm-up tournament to the World Cup), and a strong squad featuring wonderkid Neymar, the pressure is on Brazil to go deep into the tournament.
The Croatians had some glory days, most notably when they started in the late '90s after breaking away from Yugoslavia, culminating in a third place finish in the 1998 World Cup. Those days are long gone though, as they failed to qualify in the 2010 Cup in South Africa, and they had to take down Cinderella sweethearts Iceland in a two-leg playoff for this World Cup spot. But low pressure and low expectations could be a recipe for success behind their best players – Luka Modric of Real Madrid and his midfield mate Niko Kranjčar (who is part of the vast minority of people on this team whose last name doesn’t end in –ic).
“El Tri” hasn’t made a quarterfinals of the World Cup since before most of their squad was born, and after an incredibly rocky qualifying stage, this season doesn’t look terribly promising either. The process cost them three coaches and couldn’t be wrapped up without a playoff with New Zealand - a playoff that wouldn’t have even been an option without a merciful goal from an unlikely savior; their vicious rivals, the USA. Mexico has the pieces, with Gio dos Santos, Carlos Vela, and Chicarito anchoring the attach, but their confidence is low and their squad lacks the depth that is so important to hanging around late in this tournament.
Otherwise known as the “Indomitable Lions” (which is totally awesome), Cameroon has had a bumpy year in the increasingly challenging African soccer world. Their very rich but aging striker Samuel Eto’o scored both goals in their qualifier against Tunisia, but has been struggling in club play at Chelsea. Alex Song gives the team both youth and experience (also, stupid hair), but is a defensive liability, and doesn’t score enough to offset that. Cameroon will have the most trouble getting out of this group.
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