Brazil vs. Croatia
2014 FIFA World Cup
June 12 | 4 pm ET | Arena Corinthians - São Paulo
TV: ESPN, Univision, CBC in Canada
Brazil are the hosts and the odds-on favorites to win the 2014 FIFA World Cup. As if they needed any more help, the Selecao also have history on their side when they open the tournament on Thursday against Group A opponents Croatia at the Arena Corinthians in São Paulo (4 pm ET, ESPN, Univision and CBC in Canada).
No host nation has ever lost their first match in a World Cup (14-0-6 record, including Korea and Japan in 2002).
HOW'S NEYMAR? The most talked-about ankle in all of Brazil over the last 48 hours lives in Neymar's left leg. He turned it on Monday, but has since resumed training although it's unclear if it's still a sore spot for him.
You figure the Croatians will have their bullseye on it although Neymar should have karma on his side after helping a young field invader get the photo of his life during training earlier this week.
THE PLAYER SINGING BOTH NATIONAL ANTHEMS: Croatia have two Brazilian-born players on their roster (Sammir and Eduardo) and one of them has made no secret of the fact that he plans to sing both national anthems when they play at the Arena Corinthians. In fact, Eduardo's family says he's only Croatian for work.
RED CARD WAITING TO HAPPEN? The referee for the match, Yuichi Nishimura from Japan, was the same person who officiated Brazil's 2010 World Cup quarterfinal elimination against the Netherlands. And he sent off Brazilian midfielder Felipe Melo in the late stages for this stomp:
TORONTO FC'S JULIO CESAR IN THE SPOTLIGHT: That match doesn't bring back great memories for Toronto FC 'keeper Júlio César, who was guilty of a costly error. He'll be aiming to make up for it beginning Thursday and his job is made easier by the fact that Croatia, who are already missing regular left back Danijel Pranjic with a sprained left ankle, will also be without star forward Mario Mandzukic because of this red card in his last qualifier:
WILL FANS BACK BRAZIL? Neymar & Co. were booed off the field by their own fans in their last exhibition before the World Cup, a 1-0 win over Serbia. But they shouldn't expect the game against Croatia to be much different. The Vatreni (the Blazers), as Croatia are nicknamed, have the best defensive record of any team that survived the qualifying rounds (11 goals in 13 matches). Plus, the last meeting between these two nations in the 2006 World Cup produced a narrow 1-0 win for Brazil, courtesy of this goal by rumored MLS target Kaká:
THE STAR YOU KNOW
- Neymar, forward, Brazil -- He's a superstar, but he's still a notch below Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi in the ranking of greatest players in the world. It's probably because he's still only 22 years old. But if he can carry Brazil to the World Cup title, it could turn into his crowning moment and his chance to permanently reach the Messi-Ronaldo stratosphere.
THE PLAYER WHO WILL SURPRISE YOU
- Ivan Rakitic, midfielder, Croatia – You may not have seen him play because of the Spanish team he plays for (Sevilla), but you won't have a hard time noticing him on Thursday against Brazil. When he decides to go on a knifing run through midfield, there's no stopping him unless illegal means are used. There's a reason European giants FC Barcelona are rumored to have already signed him up.