Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has attempted to rally support behind the home nation ahead of their opening game of the World Cup, telling them “This is our World Cup.”
After years of preparation fraught with controversy and delays, and with protests and antipathy persisting toward the tournament in Brazil, the action on the pitch finally begins on Thursday with Brazil taking on Croatia in São Paulo. There is perhaps more pressure on Brazil heading into the tournament than on any other country ever before. Brazil are the only major soccer nation to have not won the World Cup on home soil, with memories of the only previous time the country hosted the tournament, in 1950, still uneasily prominent. Then a painful defeat to Uruguay in the final game at the Maracanã set off a nationwide depression.
But at last year’s Confederations Cup, under the guidance of the coach who led Brazil to their last World Cup triumph 12 years ago, the seleção were inspired by a passionate support in the stadiums. A 3-0 victory in the final against world champions Spain gave Brazil ideal preparation and Scolari is clearly keen to harness to same kind of support over the next four weeks.
“To all Brazilians I want to tell you the time has arrived,” he said, according to AFP. “This is our World Cup.”
Drawn in a group that also contains Mexico and Cameroon, as well as Croatia, Brazil are predicted to have little trouble navigating the opening stage. But, realizing the importance of getting off to a good start, Scolari is unsurprisingly eager for no one to start looking ahead.
“There are seven steps,” he explained. “We have to go up those seven steps but to start we have to think of the first step. We can't jump the seven steps. The first step is tomorrow against Croatia. After that we have six steps that we want to go up if we want to win the World Cup.”
Evidence of the settled team Scolari has created since the Confederations Cup can be seen by the fact that he is likely to field the same 11 players that began that tournament. Less than ideal club seasons for the likes of Oscar, David Luiz, Paulinho and goalkeeper Julio Cesar have been overlooked such is his belief in his united team.
For their efforts to put a real dampener on the opening to the hosts’ party, Croatia will be unable to call upon their leading striker, Mario Mandzukic. The Bayern Munich man picked up a red card in Croatia’s qualifying playoff win over Iceland and misses the match through suspension.
Victory over Iceland provided an eventually successful end to a difficult qualifying campaign. After finishing second in their group to Belgium and taking just one point form their final four matches, Igor Stimac was dismissed as coach, with Under-21 coach and former national team midfielder Niko Kovac leading them through the playoffs and onto Brazil. With creative talents like Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, Kovac is adamant that Croatia will play positively in search of an upset.
“We will try everything to surprise them, to create an upset, to create a positive result,” he said, reports AFP. “We are not going to park the bus tomorrow," he said. "We are going to attack. We are going to seek our chances because Brazil are so strong that if you want success against them you have to score.”
Brazil G: Julio Cesar
D: Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Marcelo
M: Paulinho, Luiz Gustavo
Hulk, Oscar, Neymar
Croatia G: Pletikosa
D: Srna, Corluka, Lovren, Vrsaljko
M: Modric, Rakitic
Perisic, Kovacic, Olic