Ask any soccer fan and they’ll tell you “Soccer was invented in England, but it was perfected in Brazil“. The sport lives in every street, every heart, and every dream: the nation lives for the world’s beautiful game.
This happens to be the second time Brazil hosts the FIFA World Cup, narrowly missing out on lifting the trophy to Uruguay in the final back in 1950. Since then, Brazil has won a record 5 times, but none of those accomplishments could compare to winning the World Cup in your own country. Brazil (ranked 3rd in FIFA Rankings) opens up this year’s tournament after what is expected a wonderful, exciting opening ceremonies with the opening game against Croatia (ranked 18th) June 12th in Sao Paolo.
While Croatia will be looking to for some justification after narrowly missing out on the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Brazil will be looking to march toward their sixth World Cup title, but what does Brazil need to do in order to secure three points against Croatia?
1. Neymar and Oscar
Neymar is the golden boy of Brazil. He dons the Brazil number 10 jersey and earned last year’s Confederation Cup Golden Ball, which is given to the best player of the tournament. Neymar had a relatively quiet first season at Barcelona, but seems to be a different being when he puts the Brazilian crest over his heart. Constantly turning plays into his own highlight reels, he takes on two or three players, creates chances out of thin air, finishes spectacular goals, and ends with a crowd-enticing dance. He embodies everything that Brazilian futbol represents at its finest: flair, confidence, skill, and entertainment. If Brazil is looking to earn all three points, Neymar will have to produce a spectacular show against Croatia.
The country of Brazil relies heavily on Neymar, true, but the team itself relies even more on Chelsea star midfielder Oscar. Oscar represents Brazil with Number 11. Oscar will be the midfielder to distribute balls to Neymar and fellow forwards Hulk and Fred and then he will disappear. In fact, Oscar will most likely disappear until he appears out of nowhere with the ball, turns, and scores.
This little scenario describes perfectly the deadly role Oscar will play in this year’s tournament. He is so sharp with his passing and movement, that he won’t stand out until a pass will sneak to his feet, then the world will watch as Oscar performs magic with the ball and finishes with it in the net or plays a ball to one of his teammates in stride towards goal as they take their turn unleashing a strike on goal. Oscar’s distribution to Brazil’s forward line might be the biggest difference maker in Brazil’s game against Croatia.
2. Lock Down Luka
Brazil has one of the top defenses in the tournament, and fortunately, Croatia’s top forward Mario Mandzukic will miss the opening game with a suspension. Therefore, a large workload will fall on the shoulders of Real Madrid play maker Luka Modric. So the major battle will be between Modric and two defensive midfielders from Brazil, who will most likely be looking to play physically against the 5’9″ Croatian.
Whether the defensive midfielders are Luis Gustavo and Ramires, or Paulinho starts in place of one or the other, expect the Brazilian holding midfielders to bump Modric every time he comes in contact with the ball. As the game wears on, I expect whichever defensive midfielder not starting, to sub on and continue the barrage of knocks and jabs. If Modric is locked down efficiently, Croatia’s frustration could become a weapon and boost for Brazil’s fans, in turn creating more flair and highlights for the Brazil team.
3. Play to the Beat of Brazil
With the Opening Ceremonies, Brazil will be on Cloud Nine during the opening game versus Croatia. The entire country of Brazil lives for soccer and regardless to protests in the street, the country of Brazil will be 100% backed by its citizens. There will be drums, parties, dancing, drinks, music, and hundreds of thousands of viewers watching around the country. The entire city of Sao Paolo will move to the same beat and all Brazil needs to do to secure three points is embrace the beat of Brazil. Play to its rhythm and Brazil will play an unbelievable game of soccer and have no problem grabbing a win and a vital three points. Once they build on this game, Brazil could be the toughest teams to beat in the entire tournament.