3:00 p.m. CT
Group A: Brazil v. Croatia
The World Cup officially kicks off this afternoon with the hosts taking on a pretty solid Croatia team.
Brazil will press hard and attack at speed and, unlike many Brazilian sides of the past, can do so in the knowledge that their defense is secure. Thiago Silva and David Luiz, shielded by Luiz Gustavo, should prove the equal of any bar the very best attack, and Marcelo and Dani Alves have the legs to cover their flanks as well as support the attack. But Brazil wouldn't be Brazil without some kind of question mark at the back, and in this case it's the goalkeeper. Julio César spent the last couple of years in and out of the Queens Park Rangers team before recently taking his search for first-team soccer to Toronto FC. His presence in the line-up is a sign of Scolari's faith in his players; it's also a gamble. An early concession, a Moacir Barbosa moment, and the inexperience in the line-up might start to tell.
Internationally, they’re likely to sit in front of the defense behind Mateo Kovačić, though defensive midfielder Ognjen Vukojević could get introduced in favor of one of Croatia’s attacking midfielders against Brazil. If Rakitić and Modrić can control distribution from deep, then they will be able to ensure that Kovačić, striker Mario Mandžukić and the overlapping right-back Darijo Srna see plenty of the ball. If they can be shut down, however, then the Croats are in trouble, and a lot depends on whether they can curb their naturally attacking instincts to screen what is a vulnerable and slightly slow defense.
Armchair Analyst broke the whole thing down in college football terms:
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