Brazil tabbed as early fa­vorite to grab top spot in Group A

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS - By REUTERS in Costa do Sauipe, Brazil

World Cup host Brazil might not ad­mit it but it will al­ready have one eye on the last 16 and a po­ten­tial clash with holder Spain or the Nether­lands af­ter a fa­vor­able draw on Fri­day.

Brazil’s Group A op­po­nents came out as Croa­tia, which it faces in the open­ing match on June 12, Mex­ico and Cameroon and it is a hot fa­vorite to qual­ify in first place.

If it does, it will face the run­ner-up in Group B, which con­tains world and Euro­pean cham­pion Spain plus the Nether­lands, which lost to the Span­ish in the 2010 fi­nal, Chile and Aus­tralia.

The win­ner of Group B will face the Group A run­ner-up.

“We have to work with the play­ers’ heads be­cause ex­pec­ta­tions are go­ing to be so high,” said Branco, a full­back with the Brazil team that won the tro­phy in 1994.

“It’s go­ing to tough, be­cause we could end up fac­ing the Nether­lands, Spain or Chile.”

Coach Luiz Felipe Sco­lari pre­dictably played down any men­tion of the knock­out stage.

“We have to get past the first round,” Sco­lari said. “Ev­ery­one thinks about the sec­ond round and for­gets that the first stage is im­por­tant...

“My play­ers are go­ing to be ready for the first stage and then we will worry about the other teams.”

That first round pits Brazil against three teams they have played be­fore at the World Cup.

Brazil opens the tour­na­ment in Sao Paulo against Croa­tia, which they beat in the first match of the 2006 fi­nals in Ger­many.

Af­ter a short 300 km trip back to its Rio base, Brazil then faces a three-hour, 2,250 km re­turn flight to For­taleza for the sec­ond tie on June 17 against Mex­ico, which they played the last time Brazil hosted the tour­na­ment in 1950.

Its third match is in Brasilia on June 23 against Cameroon which it de­feated in the group stage in 1994.

“It’s al­ways good to start off against a Euro­pean team be­cause they have to go through an adap­ta­tion pe­riod in Brazil, and there is a se­ries of things they will need to im­ple­ment,” said Sco­lari.

Cap­tain Thi­ago Silva also talked up the team’s firstround op­po­nents.

“We ended up in a strong group, one that gives you goose bumps,” the de­fender said.

“A strong African side, per­haps one of the best. And Mex­ico has been a tough ad­ver­sary for us and Croa­tia is a strong team phys­i­cally. It’s very dif­fi­cult but we are ready.

“It doesn’t mat­ter if we face a strong team early on or later in the tour­na­ment, Spain or the Nether­lands,” he said.

Brazil ended up in the tough­est half of the draw but it will still be con­fi­dent about its chances, hav­ing lost only twice in 19 games since Sco­lari took over in Novem­ber.

It has scored in all but one of those matches.

Sco­lari has in­tro­duced a solid spine to the team, with Julio Ce­sar in goal, David Luiz and Thi­ago Silva in de­fense, Paulinho the an­chor in mid­field, and Fred his pre­ferred choice up front.

He has also given his side a self-be­lief it lacked un­der his pre­de­ces­sor Mano Menezes and has ral­lied the of­ten fickle fans be­hind them. Many play­ers have said the rau­cous singing was in­stru­men­tal in help­ing Brazil win the 2013 Con­fed­er­a­tions Cup.

Last week Sco­lari con­fi­dently de­clared, “Brazil are go­ing to win the World Cup in 2014.” Now all he has to do is de­liver.

RICARDO MO­RAES/REUTERS

For­mer Brazil player Cafu holds his coun­try’s draw slip dur­ing Fri­day’s World Cup draw in Sao Joao da Mata.

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