The host nation is always in Group A at the World Cup, so Brazil was destined to overshadow whoever else was drawn here. There is one interesting angle to this group: None of the coaches has been on the job all that long.
Luiz Felipe Scolari has been in charge for the longest period of time. Although he coached Brazil to the 2002 World Cup title, he was gone the next year. But he was hired late in 2012 to replace Mano Menezes and settle the nerves of Brazilian fans.
Cameroon made a change during qualifying in May 2013, hiring German Volker Finke to replace Jean-Paul Akono. The most controversial move of the four coaching changes in this group, there was talk in Cameroon that Puma had insisted on the change. Imagine how that’d fly here. Most distressing was Cameroon legend Roger Milla dissed the change.
Croatia turned to Niko Kovac after Igor Stimac struggled to get the club to the UEFA playoff. Kovac has been on the job since last October.
Miguel Herrera was literally Mexico’s fourth head coach in a five-week span at one point last year, and he oversaw the team’s playoff win over New Zealand.
The expected outcome is obvious, if not easy to achieve: Win it all. It’s no stretch to think that every Brazilian citizen believed their team would hoist the World Cup trophy this year when Brazil was named host. With the usual talented group of one-named wizards and a coach, Scolari, who won the Cup in 2002 with Brazil, expectations are sky high. And, it’s safe to say, so are fears for a nation that believes second place would be failure.
How They Got Here: Host nation
Best World Cup Finish: Five-time champions, last in 2002
If Kovac is to be believed, this will be a fun team to watch. “We want to play beautiful, attractive football,” he told World Soccer. “If you’re having fun, you’ve got a good chance of success. When I enjoyed a certain subject at school, I got better marks.” Croatia is the only team from Europe to advance to the World Cup with three losses in group play. Mario Mandzukic tied for the most goals at Euro 2012 and he will be need another big tourney outing.
How They Got Here: Defeated Iceland in a two-leg playoff
Best World Cup Finish: Semifinalist in 1998
Inexplicably won just two of 10 matches in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying, Mexico got to Brazil in large part due to Sporting Kansas City’s Graham Zusi. Although they lack authority, Mexico fans granted sainthood to Zusi, whose stoppage-time goal bumped Panama from the fourth spot in The Hex. Mexico got the fourth spot and blitzed New Zealand. Herrera appears to have instilled some stability. El Tri ran into some bad luck Saturday when midfielder Luis Montes broke his leg and will miss the World Cup.
How They Got Here: Defeated New Zealand in a two-leg playoff
Best World Cup finish: Quarterfinalist in 1970 and 1986.
Former Aston Villa defensive midfielder Jean Makoun, who is now with Renne, was Cameroon’s leading scorer in qualifying with four goals. That’s an underwhelming statistic, but the Indomitable Lions lack any sort of wow factor. Certainly Samuel Eto’o is a big name, but he’s 33 and will be in his fourth World Cup (1998, 2002 and 2010). Cameroon has lost to Paraguay and Portugal this year. Unless they show something Sunday against Germany, there’s no reason to expect Cameroon to make a run at the knockout stages.
How They Got Here: Won their group, then beat Tunisia in a two-leg playoff
Best World Cup finish: Quarterfinalist in 1990
Who Will Advance: Brazil, Mexico
Dark Horse: Croatia
Glad to be here: Cameroon
Three Players to Watch
Neymar (Brazil): He’ll be wearing No. 10 for Brazil, so you know he’s not only good, but he has moxie. With 30 goals in 47 caps, he’ll be the one opposing teams try to stop. But as he’s shown at Barcelona, Neymar is not one to be pushed around.
Mario Mandzukic (Croatia): Big, strong and quick, he has scored 48 goals across all competitions for Bayern Munich the last two years. He also had four goals in World Cup qualifying.
Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon): At just 33, he’s the elder statesman of the group. But with 33 international goals, no one can take the Chelsea forward lightly. Just ask Manchester United.
Must Watch Game
Croatia vs. Mexico, June 23
Going into this game, both teams may know that the winner will grab the second spot in the group.