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FIFA World Cup Live 2014
Brazil v Croatia
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The opening game of this World Cup could be the most important played in Brazil all summer. For these next four weeks to be the celebration all of us are dearly hoping for, we need the people of Brazil to embrace the idea of staging a nonstop carnival. That starts with what happens on the pitch. Begin their campaign in style, and the whole country may forget its more pressing problems for a while and jump on board with Phil Scolari and his team.
Croatia will not arrive in Sao Paulo to make up the numbers. Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric are two of the in-form midfielders in Europe. They will miss Mario Mandzukic, suspended for a wild tackle in the play-offs, but Nikica Jelavic has recovered some of his confidence in front of goal at Hull and Dejan Lovren of Southampton has been one of the quiet successes of the Premier League season.
It’s difficult to imagine a team starting a World Cup under more pressure of expectation than Brazil, but they handled it extremely well to win the Confederations Cup “dress rehearsal” last summer. I’m not convinced their main striker Fred has either the class (or indeed the name) to set a World Cup alight, and much will depend on whether Neymar and Oscar have recovered from exhausting club seasons in Europe. But if Brazil start well, they may just carry their public, too. The whole tournament will benefit if the Brazilians light the yellow and blue touchpaper on opening night.
Brazil v Croatia (Kick-off 9.00pm). The 20th staging of the World Cup gets under way this evening at the Arena de Sao Paulo, where the host nation begin their Group A campaign. This is the second time Brazil has hosted the tournament, with the last occasion in 1950 finishing with them as runners-up to Uruguay, and the feast of global football has remarkably not been held on South American soil since Argentina's controversial home victory of 1978. Brazil are always expected to be involved in the latter stages and have the honour of being the only nation to play in every World Cup finals, but the pressure on the Samba Boys is higher than ever this year, with nothing less than victory being acceptable to their adoring, yet hard-to-please fans. Several Premier League-based players are expected to be involved tonight, with the starting XI for the hosts looking to add their names to an illustrious list of World Cup heroes that includes the likes of Pele, Garrincha, Jairzinho, Zico and Ronaldo. They begin against a Croatian side that needed a play-off against Iceland to qualify after finishing behind Belgium in their group and, while they possess a talented squad of players, they will not be expected to spoil the party this evening despite opening matches being notoriously difficult to predict. Plus, live coverage of the opening ceremony with Matt Smith and guests. Presented by Adrian Chiles, with commentary by Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend, and analysis by Fabio Cannavaro, Lee Dixon and Patrick Vieira.
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