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2014 World Cup

1 GER FINAL (ET) ARG 0
JULY 13 | RIO DE JANEIRO
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World Cup Group A Preview: Brazil, Mexico poised to move on

By Evan Hilbert | CBSSports.com

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Young Neymar hopes to bring the cup back to Brazil. (Getty Images)

More World Cup: Group Previews | World Cup Roundup | Latest news & notes

The hosts! A confusing Mexican side! The first team eliminated from the 2010 World Cup! Croatia! That's Group A in a nutshell. Barring some unforeseen calamity, the group stage will largely be a battle for second place as Brazil is expected to have its way. And given that this year's World Cup is on Brazilian soil, it better.

The teams

Brazil: By Brazilian standards, the 2010 World Cup fell far below expectations. Brazil lost to the Netherlands in the quarterfinal round, and such a result in front of its faithful will not be met kindly. A lot will be on the young shoulders of Neymar, a dazzling striker appearing in his first cup. But what the Brazilians lack in experience they more than make up for with raw ability. They are the class of this group by far.

Mexico: In the 2012 Olympics, Mexico beat Brazil for the gold medal. So it came as something of a surprise when El Tri lost eight of 10 World Cup qualifiers, only to make the field due to some fortuitous results and a pasting of New Zealand in a couple play-in matches. Still, for all its ups and downs, Mexico still appears to be second-best here and therefore in position to reach the knockout stage.

Croatia: Standing in the Mexicans' way will be Croatia, a team that can equal Mexico talent-wise. One thing that may come into play will be how well the Croatians will acclimate themselves to Brazil's climate. The other three squads in Group A will have little trouble, in that regard. Plus, Croatia will get a trial-by-fire, with since it will literally kick-off the tournament against Brazil.

Cameroon: Though the clear underdog, Cameroon boasts enough firepower to spring an upset. They may have to settle for the role of spoiler, however, as the Cameroonians' odds of getting through the group are slim.

The key players

Neymar: One of the best players in the world will compete in his first World Cup on his native soil. Seems like a dream scenario for Neymar, who may very well bring the cup back to Brazil and earn Golden Boot honors in the process. Perhaps a national hero in the making.

Oribe Peralta:
The hero of Mexico's gold medal run, Peralta offers a scoring threat for a side that has struggled at times to generate much offensively. Peralta has 11 goals in his 10 international appearances, plus his two-goal game against Brazil in the ‘12 Olympics. He probably won't sneak up on the Brazilians again.

Mario Mandzukic:
The Bayern Munich striker is a dangerous player for the Croatian side as both a scoring threat and distributor. One problem: FIFA has suspended Mandzukic for one match after he received a red card for stomping on an Icelandic player. That game? The opener against Brazil. Ouch.

Samuel Eto'o:
The aging striker has decided to give international play one more go after retiring from the Cameroon side last year. Eto'o will need a lot of help if the Cameroonians are going to move -- a longshot, to be sure -- but he can certainly shoulder a heavy burden.

How the group should play out

On the surface, the smart money would be on Brazil to breeze through Group A en route to a place in the knockout stage. But perhaps if we look deeper, below the surface. Nope, still Brazil. And they likely won't feel much resistance.

There is some intrigue with regards to who will join the Brazilians in the Round of 16. It's unlikely Cameroon wins a match -- and the same goes for Brazil losing -- so the second team through may come down to the result of the Mexico-Croatia match, or, less interestingly, goal differential. The two sides ranked 19th (Mexico) and 20th (Croatia) in May's FIFA world rankings, but if there is an edge to be had it's Mexico's familiarity with the climate.

So it looks like Brazil and, tentatively, Mexico as Group A's top two.

Our predictions

Group A Predictions
Prediction
Jason
La Canfora
Jeff
Borzello
Tom
Fornelli
Evan
Hilbert
Jerry
Hinnen
Mike
Singer
1st
Brazil
Brazil
Brazil
Brazil
Brazil
Brazil
2nd
Croatia
Croatia
Croatia
Mexico
Mexico
Mexico
3rd
Cameroon
Mexico
Mexico
Croatia
Croatia
Cameroon
4th
Mexico
Cameroon
Cameroon
Cameroon
Cameroon
Croatia
 
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