Brazil casts a long shadow over the rest of Group A at the World Cup. It’s the bookmakers’ favorite, winner of the championship a record five times and the home team. It hasn’t exited the tournament at the group stage since 1966, and getting past teams ranked 18th, 20th and 56th in the world probably won’t be a problem. Following is a look at the group:
* Samba Team: Compared with past Brazil teams that had Zico, Rivelino, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo, this year’s squad relies more on teamwork than stars. Striker Neymar (Barcelona), defender Dani Alves (Barcelona), winger Hulk (Zenit St. Petersburg), midfielder Oscar (Chelsea) and longtime goalkeeper Julio Cesar (Toronto FC/Queens Park Rangers) are the best-known Samba Boys outside their home country. Manager Luis Felipe Scolari’s approach produced 13 wins in 14 matches for the Seleção, including a 3-0 victory over world champion Spain in last year’s Confederations Cup final. The tournament really starts for Brazil in the second round, when Scolari’s team probably will meet Spain or the Netherlands, the 2010 finalists who face Chile and Australia in Group B.
* Spoiler Alert: Cameroon may ultimately decide which squad joins Brazil in the knockout round. If the Lions, ranked 50th in the world and 5-1 losers to Portugal in March, manage a draw against either No. 18 Croatia or 20th-ranked Mexico, it would seriously hinder either’s chance at claiming the second qualification spot.
* The Big Game: The last group game between Mexico, which has reached the round of 16 at five straight World Cups, and Croatia might be the biggest. Both struggled at the end of preparations: Mexico won two of 10 games in the final qualifying round and beat New Zealand to earn its berth; Croatia needed a playoff as well, beating Iceland. It’s not likely either will play more than one game in the knockout round.
* Bloomberg Sports’ Title Chances:
Brazil - 19.9 percent
Mexico - 1.1 percent
Croatia - 0.6 percent
Cameroon - 0.2 percent
* Schedule: June 12 -- Brazil vs Croatia; June 13 -- Mexico vs Cameroon; June 17 -- Brazil vs Mexico; June 18 -- Cameroon vs Croatia; June 23 -- Cameroon vs Brazil, Croatia vs Mexico.
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