We kick off our series of World Cup previews, wearing African specs, with a look at Group A. Cameroon have a mountain to climb if they hope to emerge from the group stages, but for those who want to reach for some sort of hope, we’ve found you some. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
Rally round, sports fans. It’s that time once every four years when even those with just a passing interest in kickball get excited about men putting foot to a ball. Yes, even Americans will be zoning in on this soccer feast which is just two weeks away from kicking off.
If you can manage to rub your weary eyes to make it to the late kick-off, you’ll be in for a treat as the world’s best fight it out for a place in the knockouts. But before we get there, it’s preview time. Over the next few days, we’ll be running the rule over the groups and pick out some of the must-watch games.
Who is playing and the odds to advance
Group A has drawn tournament hosts Brazil with Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon. You don’t have to be a football fanatic to figure out that Brazil will most likely top the group. Sports betting site Pinnacle has the odds for advancing to the next round as follows:
Brazil have dominion over these lands and historically, they’ve rarely needed more than two wins to secure their qualification for the knock outs. The one other remaining spot is a tussle between Mexico and Croatia. For Cameroon, they’ll be happy to just pick up a win, although everyone will be delighted if they manage to cause a few upsets.
Are Africa’s chances in this group really that slim?
Well, Cameroon aren’t mugs, but they have a very tough draw. The furthest they have ever gone is the quarter-finals, back in 1990. They’ve never made it further than the first round in their other appearances. The glory days of Roger Milla’s hip shaking have long gone and, although Cameroon do have a number of good players, this challenge is probably a bridge too far. Two wins and a draw against Brazil will do it for Cameroon, but their head-to-head record against the hosts is poor.
Cameroon has played Brazil just once before in a World Cup, back in 1994. They lost 3-0. Brazil does have one win over Cameroon, though. They beat them 0-1 in the Confederations Cup of 2003. Cameroon also beat Brazil in the quarter-finals of the Sydney Olympics in 2000, where the Lions eventually went on to claim gold. So, if you’re reaching, there is some hope.
Cameroon have played against Mexico just once – and lost – and have never played against Croatia.
Players to watch
World Cups can make or break a player and create cult heroes and pantomime villains. It is one of the greatest sporting events in the world, because it becomes so all-consuming. Ordinary players become legends and legends become players you wish you never knew.
Oscar (Brazil): Oscar has had a stellar season with Chelsea and, just to make you feel inadequate, he’s only 22 years old. He featured heavily in Brazil’s Confederations Cup winning campaign last year and things can only get better from here.
Joël Matip (Cameroon): You didn’t think we’d go with the usual Samuel Eto’o here, did you? Sure, the Cameroon captain is one to keep an eye on, but you already knew that. Matip is another 22-year-old to make you feel inadequate about your life achievements. Some have put him in the same bracket as Rigobert Song, and this sturdy defender has already racked up 139 appearances for Schalke.
Javier Hernandez (Mexico): Well, watch him if he actually gets to play. Despite getting close to being Mexico’s all-time top scorer, lack of game time in the Premier League this season has put Hernandez’s profile back just a little bit. “Chicharito” might have to fill the role of super sub rather than super forward.
Luka Modric (Croatia): Sporting a brand new hair cut after Real Madrid’s La Decima win, Modric is the backbone of the Croatian team. Plucky and persistent, Modric might not bang in the goals, but he’ll be there to create them.
Fun battles: Eduardo from Croatia was born in Brazil and returns to play against his home country . Eto’o also squares up against teammates mates David Luiz, Ramires and Oscar when Cameroon go toe-to-toe with the hosts
Samuel Eto’o doesn’t like to mince his words. He already said that he believes Africa will have a chance at this year’s World Cup, but what about the prospect of playing against Brazil? Scared? Nah, not Eto:
“We respect all our adversaries and the same goes for our World Cup Group A. It is true that Brazil will be the most popular before its people and home fans, but I’m not scared of this team, we will not be scared of them. In my career we have played against this team before. We beat the Brazilians at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. There was a certain Ronaldinho in the team and many others. Eto’o is not scared. Cameroon is not scared.” DM
Photo: Supporters of the Brazilian national soccer team cheer as the team bus arrives at the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) training center, also known as Granja Comary, in Teresopolis, Brazil, 26 May 2014. The team of Brazil arrived at their base in Teresopolis to prepare for the FIFA World Cup 2014 taking place in Brazil from 12 June to 13 July 2014. EPA/MARCELO SAYAO
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