Liam Hoden’s World Cup Watch: Time for the big kick off

Neymar and his Brazil team mates face a tremendous amount of pressure to win the World Cup
Neymar and his Brazil team mates face a tremendous amount of pressure to win the World Cup
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It’s finally here.

For the past month you’ve been chomping down on your Brazil-themed Pot Noodles and M&Ms, somehow been convinced to shell out £500 on a new tele and managed to not smash that TV up whenever a current or former England star attempts to sell you something in the most wooden manner possible. You’ve even managed to smile through gritted teeth as your normally football-shy neighbours adorned their home in enough England flags to cover the Wembley pitch.

At last, the talking, shameless corporate shilling and attempt to out-knowledge your mates can be put to one side as the football itself finally begins.

I’ll be here every day to provide a look back on what you might have missed from the previous night and look ahead to the action ahead.

And I want to hear your thoughts on what you’ve seen and what you are expecting from the games ahead. Comment below or visit our Facebook page The Star Sport to let us know your views.

Of course, there is one more happy hurdle to clear before the football itself kicks off: the always highly-anticipated opening ceremony.

So get ready to sit through a couple of hours of interpretive dance in true keeping with the action which will follow over the next month.

Samba, carnival, incomplete construction projects - expect it all to be covered. Something to look forward to this evening.

Oh yeah, and there’ll be a performance of the wonderful World Cup theme We Are One (Ole Ola) from Pitbull and Jennifer Lopez. YouTube it, it’s better than you could ever imagine.

THE GAME

Group A: Brazil v Croatia, Sao Paulo, 9pm kick off, ITV

The action kicks off in traditional fashion with the tournament hosts.

But the usual opening day celebration mood will be pushed onto the backburner as the natives demand a strong start from Brazil.

A nation expects, a nation that is still smarting from failing to lift the World Cup the previous time they hosted. And that was 64 years ago. Despite winning five World Cups since, it still sticks in the craw.

Arguably, Brazil have more pressure to succeed than any other nation in any other World Cup.

There will also be the pressure to succeed in style, to light up the tournament with the true essence of Samba football, and to do so from day one.

It goes without saying they possess one of the most talented squads in the competition.

The pinnacle of the talent is Neymar, the phenomenally skilful Barcelona forward. But there is plenty of other functional talent such as Chelsea ace Oscar that makes this Brazil side so imposing.

Croatia are showing signs of emerging from their decline of recent years and that is arguably down to their superb midfield diamond. Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic can rival most nations in the competitions as a midfield combination.

The problem for the Croats is this creative midfield is papering over the cracks in the side, particularly a lack of pace in defence that could be viciously exposed by the hosts tonight.

Team news

Brazil have no immediate injury worries and are expected to field the same starting XI that triumphed in the Confederations Cup final last summer.

Croatia will be without striker Mario Mandzukic who is suspended for this game. Hull’s Nikica Jelavic could be a like-for-like replacement in a lone forward role or either Eduardo or Ivica Olic could be drafted in from the wings. Left back Danijel Pranjic is injured and Sime Vrsaljko is set to deputise. Midfielder Ivan Mocinic was sent home on Wednesday due to injury with Milan Badelj quickly drafted in.

Verdict

If Brazil manage the pressure they could emerge particularly comfortable winners. But there is plenty of talent within the Croatia side that could spoil the party if the hosts show signs of being overwhelmed.

Betting

Brazil 1/3 Draw 9/2 Croatia 12/1

Closer to home

Brazil: David Luiz, Oscar, Ramires, Willian (all Chelsea), Fernandinho (Manchester City), Paulinho (Tottenham).

Croatia: Dejan Lovren (Southampton), Nikica Jelavic (Hull).