After years of waiting the 2014 World Cup is finally upon us, as the tournament favourites and hosts, Brazil, kick off procedures with a mouthwatering encounter with Croatia. With the sound of a whistle, an entire nation will hold its breath as the weight of the nation which is illustrious for it's footballing culture lie restlessly on the shoulders of the fragile Barcelona phenomenon, Neymar, who aims to rewrite the history of Brazil and add another piece of silverware to the footballing institutions collection.
The five time winners go into this Trojan endeavour as the red-hot favourites, as the home crowd, side by side, furiously willing their nation to victory. Although a combination of Croatia's superb discipline and tactical noesis as well as their collective spirit and superb individual stars run parallel with the fact that Brazil will have the added pressure and expectancy being the host nation, which may urge the team managed by former Real Madrid star, Kovac, to a surprising upset.
It's been a tail waiting to be written since the early 90's, as Croatia go in search of a major success story since the evolution of their footballing formation, as the European outfit revolutionised modern football by asserting their individuality by forming their own footballing association following their departure of the infamous Yugoslavian team. The 'Vatreni' fans have seen their side eclipse some of the most majestic moments in World Cup history as well as witnessing some embarrassing and devastating lows.
Brazil's history with the World Cup is a global success story, where children who dream of captaining their side to World Cup glory, hear of the famous bond that 'Selecao' have with the famous trophy, such as the connection Liverpool fans feel towards the Champions League, and the iconic bond Germans feel towards penalty shoot-outs. The nation where football is a way of life, as locals who practice day-in-day-out on the famous 'Samba Beaches', first laid their eyes on football's most prized possession, back in 1950 as the Brazilian's were pipped for the title that they desired by Uruguay in a memorable final that shocked the Maracanã. It wasn't until '58 where the magic Brazilians first touched the World Cup. The Brazilians shocked the hosts of the tournament Sweden, in one of the most one sided World Cup final ever seen, as Brazil, inspired by Pele defeated Sweden 5-2. Brazil again won the World Cup four years later, as the team managed to defeat Czechoslovakia without the famous Pele. Their iconic bond continued with success at the 70', '94, and '02 tournaments.
Croatia's fond love affair began in the nations first World Cup experience in 1998 when the national side travelled to France in hope of causing an upset. Their trip surprised many, reaching the semi-finals, experiencing some reverberant victories, including their triumphs against Germany and the Netherlands. Their next global experience wouldn't come until their outing in 2002, after failing to qualify in 2000(for the Euro's). During this campaign the Croatians failed to impress and were knocked out during the group stage, which included a victory against Italy. However, their 2006 campaign was much to similar to 2006, as they crashed out at the group stage with a defeat to Brazil.
Brazil experienced a unfavourable World Cup time during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, as the famous Brazilians bowed out to eventual finalist, Holland, in the last 8. This game signalled an end of an era for Brazil, as their starting 11 in 2010 had no players featuring in Scolari's preferred starting team for this tournament. Croatia's last tournament outing came in 2012 for the European Championship, which saw 'Vatreni' bow out to the hands of eventual finalist Italy and Spain, despite earning praise for their individuality. Two years on, they've finally come of age.
Neymar; The tournament favourites attain a valuable asset in the shape of Barcelona winger, Neymar. The explosive and skilful winger is a sporting icon in Brazil, as the the youngster has seen his nation go from a football crazy nation to a Neymar frenzy nation. After a fantastic Confederations Cup, Neymar will be keen to continue his impressive form for his national side.
Luka Modric; The former Spurs midfielder is on the back of his most profound season for Real Madrid, as the Croatian was the orchestrater of a wonderful season for the Spanish outfit which was capped with a 'La Decima' victory for Madrid, as the side secured their 10th Champions League victory.
Fred; An obvious choice for a potential match winner from Brazil is the unsung hero, Fred. Although the centre forward may not possess the silky skills of his teammates such as Neymar, Hulk and Willian, the former Lyon poacher has a secret talent of being in the right place at the right time, a priceless trait in a centre forward. Along with this, Fred has the finishing touch that can be likened to the legendary Ronaldo. All in all, with Neymar built up to be the messiah of Brazilian football, don't be surprised to see Fred steal the show.
Ivan Rakitic; Ivan Rakitic is supposedly on the verge of completing a €15 million move to Barcelona. Rakitic has had a phenomenal season, being instrumental yet again for Seville, as his Spanish side lifted the Europa League. Rakitic has the ability to perfectly intricately cut open a defence. However, in Kovac's tactics, I can see Rakitic being employed to play as a typical box-to-box midfielder
One To Watch
He may not be the Brazil sensation on everyone's lips, but Tottenham midfield Paulinho has a superb record for his national side and more importantly for Scolari. The midfielder is likely to play beside Gustavo in a double pivot, and although the midfield governor was less than impressive against Serbia last week, he did earn his move to the Premier League last Summer with a hugely phenomenal performance over the course of the Confederations Cup.
Kovacic will offer an element of surprise for this brilliant Croatian side, with the teenager on the back of a simply superb season with Inter Milan, on a personal note for the creative midfielder. The strong runner is hard to stop once in full flow, with his close control, strength, pace and skill creating the perfect formula for the youngster who is likely to start as the most advanced of the midfield trio.
Whilst the romantic will go to sleep on Wednesday night dreaming of a historic upset in the 2014 World Cup opening game, the realist will go to sleep with the knowledge that they've just put their mortgage on a comfortable Brazil win. The obvious choice for Croatian's number 9 is Bayern Munich's Mandzukic, however the inform striker is set to miss the opening game of the tournament against Brazil, which will see Croatia lose the advantage of having world class striker on the pitch ready to pounce when called upon. Through the likes of Neymar, Hulk and Alves, I can't see anything but a home win. Having said that, this could go down as the greatest upsets of all time, as Croatia look create an anticlimax, and who better to conduct such a miracle than a nation with unfinished business in the World Cup.