It is only natural that a team that has won more world titles than any other and is playing at home should be considered firm favourites to win their FIFA World Cup™ group. And that is indeed the consensus among the coaches of Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon, the three sides that will be facing tournament hosts Brazil in Group A.
Given A Seleção’s status as the team to beat, their coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has the task of maintaining his charges' focus and intensity, the very weapons they used to such great effect at the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013. For that very reason, Felipão is refusing to look ahead to a possible Round-of-16 encounter with either of the two finalists at South Africa 2010, Spain or the Netherlands, who have been drawn together in Group B.
“Before I can start thinking about the Round of 16, I’ve got to think about Mexico, Cameroon and Croatia,” said the Brazil boss. “If you start thinking about the others, then you’re taking your eye off the ball. And that could be fatal in a World Cup.”
Luiz Felipe Scolari, Brazil
The draw’s not up to me and that’s why I wasn’t worried beforehand. But when you see some of the other groups, I think we can say we haven’t done badly. England, Italy and Uruguay is the toughest group. We open against a European team, which was my preference. Everyone knows Croatia. They pass the ball around well, and they’ve got good touch. They’ve been in a few World Cups now and they’ve got people who play for Europe’s top teams. Cameroon have given Brazil and a few other teams a hard time before, and then we have Mexico, who are traditional rivals of ours and still very dangerous. We’ve had some classic matches with them over the last 20 years, so that’s another warning for us. Before I can start thinking about the Round of 16, I’ve got to think about Mexico, Cameroon and Croatia. If you start thinking about the others, then you’re taking your eye off the ball. And that could be fatal in a World Cup.
Niko Kovac, Croatia
It is very special. Brazil in the first game with the whole world watching will be something. We will try to make it difficult for them but it won't be easy. Look at 2006, though, when we gave them a very difficult game. Dida made some good saves and Brazil needed a cracking goal from Kaka to win. I remember that I only played about half an hour in that game and had to go off with an injury. I hope I’ll be able to have a bit more influence this time. It will also be a special occasion for Dudu (Croatia’s naturalised Brazilian forward Eduardo da Silva) because I know Brazil still means an awful lot to him. I think Brazil are the obvious favourites. They are one of the best sides in the world, after all. But second place is wide open. Mexico may have struggled recently but they are always strong at the World Cup.
Miguel Herrera, Mexico
Mexico usually cause problems for Brazil. We play a style of football that makes the Brazilians work, but to do that this time we need to very strong physically. The core of the team is provided by the side that qualified and what we need to do now is stay competitive. When all’s said and done, we’ve been lucky. It’s not a bad group. It’s not an easy one either, but I’m sure the other sides will see us as tough opponents too. Judging by the type of football they play, the other three teams will let us play our game.
Volker Finke, Cameroon
The matches against Croatia and Mexico are the biggest ones for us. Brazil are the big favourites and they’re going to win the group. Obviously we’re going to give it our best shot against them and, who knows, we might get a point, but they’re a great team and they’ll have all their fans behind them. I don’t think there’s much to choose between Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon, and those games will be crucial. Realistically we should be looking at them as our rivals for second place. At the end of the day, being in the same group as Brazil is a great experience. We’ll be getting a lot of attention.