World Cup Preview: Group A Is Brazil's to Lose

Brazil's Neymar, top, celebrates a goal by Romulo (8) with Rafael Silva, left, and Bruno Uvini, right, during the first half of an international friendly soccer match against Argentina, Saturday, June 9, 2012, in East Rutherford, N.J.

This is the first post in a series previewing the World Cup's eight groups. Check back later this week for looks at groups B, C, D, E, F, G and H.

The 2014 World Cup's Group A includes host Brazil, two dangerous challengers and one of the game's greatest stars leading an undermanned squad.
But which are the most-interesting teams? Who are the most-exciting players? Who will advance to the knockout stage, and who will get sent home early?
SEE ALSO: How the World Cup Works, for the Soccer Newbie
All that (and more!) shall be revealed right here in our 10-minute guide to Group A.

The teams (FIFA world ranking in parenthesis)

  1. Brazil (4)
  2. Mexico (19)
  3. Croatia (20)
  4. Cameroon (50)

The landscape

Luka Modric, Aron Gunnarsson

Luka Modric, wearing Croatia's trademark checkered home kit, challenges for the ball during a World Cup qualifying match against Iceland on Nov. 19, 2013, in Zagreb, Croatia.
Brazil will look to win a record sixth World Cup title this summer, an achievement that would be even sweeter on its home soil. The Seleção is under incredible pressure to do just that; but behind superstars such as Neymar, Hulk, Oscar and Thiago Silva, the talent is certainly there. Winning aside, though, many fans — Brazilian and otherwise — hope manager Luiz Felipe Scolari will encourage the flashy, attacking style that first made Brazilian soccer legendary worldwide, but became somewhat lost in recent years.
While not among the world's highest-ranked teams, both Mexico and Croatia are intriguing dark horses. Mexico struggled mightily in qualifying, almost missing out on the World Cup altogether, but is a dangerous squad nonetheless. Croatia may not strike the casual fan as a soccer power, but behind top-shelf players such as Luka Modrić and Mario Mandžukić, it has the firepower to surprise some teams. Cameroon, meanwhile, features the incomparable (and aging) Samuel Eto'o, but he lacks support.

The schedule (all times in ET)

  • Brazil vs. Croatia, June 12, Sao Paulo, 4 p.m.
  • Mexico vs Cameroon, June 13, Natal, 12 p.m.
  • Brazil vs. Mexico, June 17, Fortaleza, 3 p.m.
  • Cameroon vs. Croatia, June 18, Manaus, 6 p.m.
  • Croatia vs. Mexico, June 23, Recife, 4 p.m.
  • Cameroon vs. Brazil, June 23, Brasilia, 4 p.m.

4 players to watch

Neymar (Brazil): Sure, this is the obvious choice — but it's obvious for a reason. Neymaris stunningly quick and elusive with the ball, and Brazil's top weapon by far. The 22-year-old will likely be the face of this World Cup, and while partially overshadowed by demi-god Lionel Messi at FC Barcelona, he is Brazil's unquestioned star. Here's why:

Giovani dos Santos (Mexico): Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez is more well known to the casual fan, but dos Santos is an immense talent in his own right. Currently playing club ball for Villareal in Spain, the half-Brazilian attacker didn't do well for Mexico in qualifying. But look for him to bounce back for El Tri at the World Cup, and feature in some highlights like these:

Luka Modrić (Croatia): Modrić plays alongside — and against — the best of the best with Real Madrid. He'll be counted on to take a more starring role for Croatia this summer. The midfielder's passing and creativity are easy to appreciate, even if you only watch soccer every four years.

Samuel Eto'o (Cameroon): At 33, Eto'o isn't quite the player he once was, but the striker is one of the best Africa has ever produced. He played in his first World Cup as a 17-year-old in 1998, and chances are, this year's will be his last. Can he somehow lead a magical Cameroon run to go out in a style befitting his outsized legacy?

The prediction

While not an outright cakewalk, Brazil was handed a pretty easy World Cup draw. Look for them to win the group. Croatia will make things interesting, but Mexico will ultimately get itself together, and take the group's second place, along with a berth in the knockout stage. That leaves Croatia and Cameroon on the outside, looking in. Happy trails, fellas.

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