Neymar can help fire Brazil to top spot in Group A. Reuters

June 12: Brazil Vs. Croatia (4 p.m. ET, Sao Paulo)
June 13: Mexico Vs. Cameroon ( noon ET, Natal)
June 17: Brazil Vs. Mexico (3 p.m. ET, Fortaleza)
June 18:Cameroon Vs. Croatia (6 p.m. ET, Manaus)
June 23: Croatia Vs. Mexico (4 p.m. ET, Recife)
June 23: Cameroon VS. Brazil (4 p.m. ET, Brasilia)

Hosts Brazil were handed a relatively favorable draw, but one that can still far from be under-estimated, with Croatia and Mexico set to provide strong opposition and Cameroon also capable of springing a surprise. Still, there is little doubt that Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side begin as strong favorites to progress and will look to kick-start their campaign in front of what is sure to be a passionate atmosphere with a win in the opening game on Thursday against Croatia.

It is far from the ideal opening assignment for the Croatians, especially as they’ll be missing striker Mario Mandzukic through suspension. The Bayern Munich star was sent off in Croatia’s playoff against Iceland which finally secured their place in Brazil after a tough qualifying campaign. Igor Stimac was sacked as coach after the team finished second to Belgium in their group, with former Under-21 coach Niko Kovac taking his place.

Croatia’s struggles pale into significance in comparison to Mexico’s, however. Expected to breeze through the final round in Concacaf, it took Mexico four coaches, a helping hand from the United States and a playoff win over New Zealand to make it. Under coach Miguel Herrera, there have been signs of a fine generation of players beginning to find their feet, although there is still a reliance on veterans like 35-year-old captain Rafael Marquez.

Completing the theme of the group, Cameroon have also enjoyed less than smooth progress to Brazil. Helped by a loss to Togo that was overturned, the Indomitable Lions secured progress by beating Libya in their final group game and then coming out on top against Tunisia in the final round of qualifying. At age 33, Samuel Eto’o remains the team’s talisman, but he came in and out of retirement during the qualifying campaign, while familiar unrest in the squad has continued with a dispute over bonuses ahead of their flight out to Brazil.

Don’t Miss: Brazil Vs. Croatia
The opening game of a first World Cup in Brazil since 1950 will be a magical occasion, no matter the quality of action on the pitch. As it happens, the game should also be worth watching. Croatia’s midfield duo of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic can light up any match, while Brazil and star man Neymar, will be desperate to make an early impression as they did in last year’s Confederations Cup.

Key Game: Croatia Vs. Mexico
Both Croatia and Mexico will likely begin their campaigns expecting to be battling it out for second place in the group behind hosts Brazil, making their meeting in the final round of games potentially vital. Featuring two teams who look to play proactively and have some fine creative players, it is a match that should also entertain.

The pressure on Brazil will be immense this summer but they showed at the Confederations Cup that they can use the crowd as a motivator rather than a hindrance. Last summer, Brazil also overcame their bogey side of recent years, Mexico, further standing them in good stead for 2014. With a settled team that was established in that tournament and no obvious weaknesses, Brazil should progress from the group with something to spare.

Despite the veteran presence of Eto’o up front and a physically strong midfield, including Barcelona’s Alex Song, a lack of creativity and vulnerability at the back makes them the outsiders of the group. It should therefore be a tight battle between Mexico and Croatia to claim the runner-up spot. Mexico have been revived somewhat under Herrera, but the team has had little time to find cohesion in a 3-5-2 system. With Modric and Rakitic together with Mandzukic up front, Croatia certainly have the players to expose Mexico’s struggles to find defensive balance. However, the hot and humid conditions in which their contest will be played will suit Mexico more and could ultimately prove decisive.

1. Brazil
2. Mexico
3. Croatia
4. Cameroon

Odds To Win Group (provided by
1/5 Brazil
8/1 Croatia
9/1 Mexico
25/1 Cameroon