It's finally here. Party time in Brasil -- well, okay, it's always party time in Brasil. But arguably the most soccer-frenzied nation on the planet is all set to begin hosting soccer's grand bacchanal, and the hosts kick off the action with today's sole contest later this afternoon:
|MATCH||TIME (CT)||NETWORK||GROUP||TEAMS / SITE||ANNOUNCERS||ODDS|
Brazil vs Croatia
Arena de São Paulo, São Paulo
If you followed our overflight Olympic and post-season basketball coverage, you're familiar with the drill: we'll be running a table like the above daily until there's no more World Cup to cover.
The squads have met twice previously (bearing in mind that Croatia was part of Yugoslavia prior to the 1990s), with the hosts winning 1-0 in the 2005 World Cup and the Croatians managing a 1-1 draw in a 2005 friendly.
As each team makes its debut, we'll go over what would appear to be their most likely starting eleven. It may not be accurate, as things always tend to change leading up to kickoff, and we're preparing these a day early, so do forgive us if things change. After we get through the first sixteen games, we'll forego that in favor of recapping previous games and providing news updates. With today's probable lineups, we'll also be doing something we won't have to (much) for anyone else: give you the actual names of the Brazilian players, with their noms de guerre indicated in bold. From this point forward, we'll simply use the familiar reference. If there's no diminutive, then they go by their full name as a matter of course.
|12||Goal||Julio César Soares de Espindola||Toronto (MLS)||34||80||0|
|2||Back||Daniel Alves da Silva||Barcelona (ESP)||31||75||6|
Thiago Emiliano da Silva
|Paris Saint-Germain (FRA)||29||46||2|
|4||Back||David Luiz Moreira Marinho||Chelsea (ENG)||27||36||0|
|6||Back||Marcelo Vieira da Silva||Real Madrid (ESP)||26||31||4|
|8||Midfield||Jose Paulo Bezerra Maciel ("Paulinho")||Tottenham Hotspur (ENG)||25||26||5|
|11||Midfield||Oscar dos Santos Emboaba||Chelsea (ENG)||22||31||9|
|17||Midfield||Luiz Gustavo Dias||VfL Wolfsburg (GER)||26||19||1|
|7||Wing||Givenildo de Souza ("Hulk")||Zenit Saint Petersburg (RUS)||27||35||9|
|10||Wing||Neymar da Silva Santos||Barcelona (ESP)||22||49||31|
|9||Striker||Frederico Guedes ("Fred")||Fluminense (BRA)||30||34||17|
It's a fairly experienced lineup for Luiz Felipe Scolari's club, with only Luiz Gustavo having fewer than 26 caps among the expected starting eleven. Oscar could be replaced by his Chelsea teammate Willian Borges da Silva. Neymar suffered a slight injury in pre-match training which sent Brasil's fanbase into a tizzy, but he appears to be just fine.
|1||Goal||Stipe Pletikosa||Rostov (RUS)||35||111||0|
|3||Back||Danijel Pranjic||Panathanaikos (GRE)||32||49||0|
|5||Back||Vedran Corluka||Lokomotiv Moscow (RUS)||28||72||4|
|6||Back||Dejan Lovren||Southampton (ENG)||24||24||2|
|Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR)||32||113||21|
|10||Midfield||Luka Modric||Real Madrid (ESP)||28||75||8|
|8||Midfield||Ognjen Vukojevic||Dynamo Kyiv (UKR)||30||55||4|
|20||Forward||Mateo Kovacic||Internazionale (ITA)||20||10||0|
|7||Forward||Ivan Rakitic||Sevilla (ESP)||26||62||9|
|4||Forward||Ivan Perisic||VfL Wolfsburg (GER)||25||29||3|
|18||Striker||Ivica Olic||VfL Wolfsburg (GER)||34||92||18|
The probable lineup Niko Kovac will put on the pitch doesn't include a vast number of international goals to its credit. Still, the Croatians will have the advantage of club teammates Olic and Perisic up front, which will at least provide a more familiar partnership than normally seen on the international stage. Still, getting past Brazil is going to be a massive challenge. Notably missing from the lineup today will be striker Mario Mandzukic, a 28-year-old who plays for Bayern Munich. His 50 caps and 13 international goals will be on the sideline as he serves a one-game suspension due to a red card picked up in Croatia's playoff win over Iceland in qualifying.
It is possible that Olic will not take the striker role; that task may instead be set to Eduardo Alves da Silva, a 31-year-old Brazilian-born emigre who would face the task of playing against his birth nation. Eduardo, a teammate of Srna at Shakhtar Donetsk, has 64 caps for the Blazers, notching 29 goals; he has admitted he'll probably sing both national anthems.
The opener features two teams that are both likely to advance; Croatia's later match against Mexico will be key. But today, Croatia are almost certain to dig themselves a hole they're going to have to work out of, as facing the hosts in the opening match is never a great way to start the World Cup.
And it's even less so when the hosts are Brazil.
This is your open thread for the opening salvo of the 2014 World Cup. Pour a cold beverage, sit back, and join us for the fun!