Group A: The hopes and nightmares of Mexico

The World Cup is underway and the entire planet already saw Brazil defeat Croatia in the tournament opener. Controversy did not take too long to…
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Group A: The hopes and nightmares of Mexico

The World Cup is underway and the entire planet already saw Brazil defeat Croatia in the tournament opener. Controversy did not take too long to emerge, as referee Nishimura did a lot to help Brazil get the first three points in the competition.

But as Mexico started its journey in Brazil with a 1-0 win, it is time to analyze how they and their rivals reach the most important month of competition in the last four years:

Brazil

Brazil’s Neymar, right, celebrates scoring his side’s first goal during the group A World Cup soccer match between Brazil and Croatia, the opening game of the tournament, in the Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday, June 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

The host nation is –quite obviously– the best poised team to lead the group and make it to the round of 16 in one piece.

Led by Neymar, they beat Croatia 3-1, but without a bit of a push from the officiating referee. Nishimura was quite lenient with some of the physical challenges Brazilians Luiz Gustavo and Fernandinho made in the midfield –much like all referees did in the 2013 Confederations Cup.

Barcelona’s striker Neymar saw a yellow card for elbowing Luka Modric near the sideline, but he may as well have gotten a red card for said challenge. Then, when a ball was sent to the box for Fred to control in front of Lovren, his blatant dive was called as a penalty kick that opened the floodgates of victory for the Canarinha.

SEE ALSO: A dubious penalty call saves Brazil

Scolari’s team played well, but did not show the needed composure to become the clear candidate in the tournament. A tie against Croatia would have been the fair result after 90 minutes of play, but Brazil did show glimpses of what they can achieve as the move on through the championship. Oscar was on-and-off, but brilliant when he was “on”.

The two defending mids will be a force to reckon with, and a bit of adjustment in the back will make the four-men defense shine. Neymar had a good first half, but disappear in the second when the team needed him most, although he scored two and was close to nailing the hat-trick: he will surely be the start of the team this year.

Croatia

Croatia had a rough first outing in the 2014 World Cup.

Croatia players argue with referee Yuichi Nishimura from Japan after being given a penalty during the group A World Cup soccer match between Brazil and Croatia, the opening game of the tournament, in the Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday, June 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

Rakitic and Modric are without a doubt Croatia’s most talented players, and although Kovac could not count on Mandzukic upfront as he was suspended for the opening match against Brazil, the team showed just how well they can do in the tournament.

After pushing Marcelo to score an own-goal, Croatia handled the game the way they wanted. The got control of the ball and patiently weaved their plays trying to find a hole through the Canariha’s defense.

SEE ALSO: The streets in Brazil are full of colors for the World Cup

Goalkeeper Pletikosa shares a bit of the responsibility on all three goals scored by the Brazilian squad, and had he been a bit luckier, Croatia would now have earned their first point of the tournament.

For sure the Balkanic team will be the biggest hurdle between Mexico and the next round of the World Cup.

Cameroon

Cameroon will have a tough time getting out of Group A of the World Cup.

Cameroon’s players pose for a team picture prior to a soccer friendly match between Germany and Cameroon in Moenchengladbach, Germany, Sunday, June 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

The African Nation lost its shine long ago. The team that shined in the 2000 Olympics, winning the gold medal against Spain, and that went on to rule their continent in the next decade has now become a minefield of enlarged egos, political lobbies and overall disarray.

Samuel Eto’o, a few years past his prime, is still the heart and soul of the squad, and his never ending hunger and fighting spirit has made it possible for the team to make it to Brazil — and not just in the sporting sense, but also showing leadership in front of the Federation and even financial support.

SEE ALSO: A colorful ceremony welcomes the 2014 World Cup

Alongside Eto’o, Alex Song, Stephane Mbia, Joel Matip and Pierre Webo will try and get Cameroon some of their hard earned respect back, but unless Croatia and Mexico flop, it will be tough for the Indomitable Lions to make through to the next round.

Mexico

Giovani dos Santos is Mexico's best player in the World Cup.

Mexico’s Giovani dos Santos (10) celebrates after scoring a goal against Ecuador in the second half of a friendly soccer match Saturday, May 31, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. Mexico won 3-1. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

El Tri is now enjoying the calm before the storm. After a long and tedious qualifier, Miguel Herrera has managed to bring the team spirits up, and everyone sees in the win over Cameroon as a real statement: That Mexico is a force to be reckoned with this year, and they have a built a squad that can make it to the much yearned Fifth Game of the tournament.

Memo Ochoa has been confirmed as the starting goalkeeper, and Oribe Peralta –America’s new star signing– will take the spot that Chicharito and Vela (although for different reasons) have left vacant upfront.

SEE ALSO: World Cup 2014: The number 10 – accidental heroes?

Herrera is convinced that Mexico has what it takes to get to the next round and be the Dark Horse of the competition, but their group matching is definitely not the easiest.

The victory over Cameroon was crucial, and a good performance against Brazil will be needed to make El Tri’s dream a reality. However, much of their fate is in Croatia’s hand, and Kovac’s squad has already given everyone a taste of what’s to come from them in this World Cup.