Record five-time winners and host nation Brazil will ensure a sprinkling of prestige and history as they kick off the 20th edition of the FIFA World Cup™ against an ambitious Croatia side with nothing to lose. All the pressure will be on Neymar and Co in Sao Paulo, with an entire nation desperate for a winning start to their World Cup odyssey on home soil. Niko Kovac’s cosmopolitan squad boast the tools to spoil the party, however, drawing talent from some of the biggest clubs in Europe and featuring just two players based in Croatia.
Thursday’s encounter will also be the first World Cup finals game contested in the Americas since 17 July 1994, when Brazil defeated Italy 3-2 on penalties at the end of a goalless draw in Los Angeles to clinch their fourth title.
Brazil-Croatia, Arena de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Thursday 12 June, 17.00 (local time)
Brazil and Croatia crossed paths eight years ago on 13 June 2006, with Berlin the backdrop as they got the ball rolling in Group F at Germany 2006. The South American side were given a genuine test by their technically gifted rivals and were left grateful to Kaka’s goal just before the break as they began with a slender win. None of the Seleção players that day will be involved this time around, but two of Croatia’s 23-man squad will be stepping back into the breach: goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa and captain Darijo Srna. So too, of course, will Niko Kovac, who contested that game alongside his brother and assistant coach Robert. Niko, 42, won 83 caps in total before replacing Igor Stimac last October and helping turn Croatia back into a competitive force… see more