Despite widespread protests and violence the 20th edition of the FIFA World Cup begins in Brazil on Thursday with the hosts taking on Croatia in the opening match in Sao Paulo.
It is the second time Brazil will be hosting the competition, the previous being in 1950, when they endured a heartbreaking defeat to Uruguay in the final.
After winning last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup, the hosts, who have won the World Cup five times, are the major favourites to reclaim the trophy won by Spain four years ago in South Africa. However, perennial contenders Germany, Italy and Argentina will be waiting to spoil the party for the Brazilians.
Brazil are hoping to become the first nation to win the World Cup on home soil since France did it in 1998.
World Cup history
In 1930, FIFA held the first World Cup tournament in Montevideo, Uruguay with the hosts emerging winners of the inaugural tournament.
After another two events in 1934 (Italy) and 1938 (France), there was a 12-year break due to the World War, before recommencing in 1950 in Brazil. Since then, the World Cup has been held every four with Brazil, the most successful team, the only country to have competed in every finals series.
African champions Nigeria, who are in Group F alongside two-time champions Argentina, Iran and debutants Bosnia, lead four other countries namely Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Algeria as the continent’s representatives at this edition of the Mundial.
Nigeria will open their tournament campaign against Iran on Monday.
Super Eagles coach, Stephen Keshi, has kept faith with the majority of the players that won the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, bringing in the experienced striker Osaze Odemwingie and Joseph Yobo, who returns as team captain.
Youngsters Uche Nwofor and Ramon Azeez have also been brought in as Keshi aims to blend experience and youth in the squad while best player at January’s African Nations Championship, Ejike Uzoenyi, was a late replacement for injured Monaco left-back, Elderson Echiejie.
Cameroon are making a record seventh appearance while captain Samuel Eto’o will be making his fifth appearance at the finals.
Brazil, who were eliminated in the quarter-finals of the last two tournaments, have won 15 of their last 16 matches, but a below par outing against Serbia in their last preparatory game before the World Cup, has raised questions about the ability of Felipe Scolari’s squad to deliver when the chips are down.
Barcelona 22-year-old forward Neymar has the huge burden of leading the squad to a sixth triumph on home soil. He would be complemented by other youthful players Oscar, Willian, while captain Thiago Silva will lead from behind.
Croatia, led by Real Madrid playmaker Luka Modric, will hope to pull off a monumental upset today but coach Niko Kovac’s side won’t be at full strength against the hosts.
Forward Mario Mandzukic, who was red-carded in the team’s final qualifier, will miss the crucial opener while the experienced Niko Kranjcar was dropped from the squad because of a late hamstring injury.
The other teams in the group Cameroon and Mexico will take to the field in Friday’s only game but while the hosts are huge favourites, it would be difficult to pick who joins them in the next round of the competition.
Defending champions Spain will play Holland in a replay of the 2010 final. Both sides are favoured to advance ahead of Chile and Australia.
Colombia and Greece will open hostilities in Group C on Saturday before Ivory Coast and Japan take to the field next day. This is probably the last chance for the underperforming golden generation of Ivory Coast footballers like Didier Drogba, Emmanuel Eboue, the Toure brothers Kolo and Yaya, and others to create a positive impact on the international scene
This is a very tough group with all the four teams standing a chance of moving ahead to the Round of 16. The group promises to be explosive as three-time champions Italy, two-time champions Uruguay, 1966 champions England and Costa Rica all jostle for a knockout ticket.
France are overwhelming favourites here but Switzerland and Ecuador are two teams that can test the might of Les Bleus. Honduras are the outsiders.
Once again the Super Eagles are drawn against Argentina. Both teams have met thrice in the competition (1994, 2002 and 2010) and the South Americans triumphed on all occasions. Nigeria begin their campaign on Monday against Iran while Bosnia Herzegovina engage the Argentines in the other group game.
Tagged the Group of Death, analysts pick Germany and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal as the two teams who will advance to the next stage of the competition while Ghana and USA, despite their fighting spirits, will battle for the scraps.
Belgium are the hottest team going into the World Cup. The group, which also parades South Korea, Russia and Algeria, looks relatively soft, with Russia as the main competition for the Belgians but South Korea could be the banana skin in this group though.
1974 W’ Germany
1990 W’ Germany