The stage is set, the final countdown begins to kick start the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The show piece event will get underway later tonight with the hosts Brazil taking on Croatia in the tournament opener at Sao Paulo. The Selecao who go into the tournament as favourites, will look to begin with a win. Croatia on the other hand will look to spoil the party of the hosts and lay a foundation stone for their quest into the second round.

Team News:

Neymar has recovered from a training ground knock that left an entire nation holding its breath and is likely to start in the tournament opener. Brazilian coach Scolari will be favouring to go in with the tested 4-2-3-1 formation with Fred as the lone striker and Neymar and Hulk providing support from either sides.

On the other hand, Croatia has received a major jolt during their win over Iceland in the World Cup qualifying play-off way back in November. Their striker Mario Mandzukic received a red card in the game and with that he is set to miss the opening clash against Brazil. Nikica Jelavic is most likely candidate to replace Mandzukic.

Line Ups:

Brazil (4-2-3-1): Julio Cesar; Marcelo, David Luiz, Thiago Silva, Dani Alves; Paulinho, Luiz Gustavo; Neymar, Oscar, Hulk; Fred.

Croatia (4-3-3): Stipe Pletikosa; Danijel Pranjic, Dejan Lovren, Vedran Corluka, Darijo Srna; Ivan Rakitic, Ognjen Vukojevic, Luka Modric; Ivica Olic, Nikica Jelavic, Ivan Perisic.

Key Battles:

Croatia forwards vs Brazil defence:

The Croatian forward line will have a huge task in breaching the Brazilian Central defence pairing of David Luiz and Thiago Silva. With Mandzukic ruled out of the match, his replacement Jelavic or Eduardo who might come later in the game will find it hard to get past the Brazil’s back four.

Neymar vs Vedran Corluka:

Neymar is one of the most skilful footballer at present who has the ability to penetrate the defence quite easily. Neymar’s tendency to drift in from the flanks will see Vedran Corluka in the way between him and the goal. The Locomotiv Moscow centre back Corluka was a more than decent centre back in his prime but over the years, his form has dipped drastically. He will have a huge challenge ahead of him when he faces Neymar and co. later tonight.

Stats:

The host nation has never lost their opening World Cup game, with the 20 previous hosts winning 14 and drawing six of their openers.

Eight of the last 12 opening matches at World Cups have produced one goal or less.

Brazil are taking part in their 20th World Cup. They are the only team to have taken part in every single tournament.

Brazil have won eight and drew one of their last nine World Cup games in the group stages. Their last defeat dates back to 23 June 1998 against Norway.

Croatia have only conceded 11 goals in 13 World Cup games (0.85/game). It’s the best ratio among the 32 teams taking part in 2014.

Brazil defeated Croatia 1-0 in their previous meeting in the 2006 World Cup, courtesy Kaka’s sole goal in Berlin.

Prediction:

Brazil will start strongly and with the backing of the crowd, they will go home victorious with a 3-0 scoreline with Fred making his way into the scoresheet.

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