World Cup guide: Group A
Our team-by-team guide to the World Cup kicks off with Dave Tickner's look at Group A, which includes hosts Brazil.
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It's the first of our team-by-team features which have a betting flavour and aim to uncover some stats which will help you with your World Cup punting.
You can find guides to all the other groups as well as all the rest of our previews and features here, including our outright and top goalscorer tips.
The specials markets will be assessed on Wednesday with some England-flavoured bets coming your way on Thursday - the day the tournament gets under way.
So make sure you stay logged on to sportinglife.com for all this and more ahead of sporting event of the year!
Outright odds (with Sky Bet): 11/4
To win group: 1/6
To qualify: 1/80
Full squad: Julio Cesar (Toronto FC), Jefferson (Botafogo), Victor (Gremio); Dani Alves (Barcelona), Maicon (Inter Milan), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Maxwell (Paris St Germain), David Luiz (Chelsea), Thiago Silva (Paris St Germain), Dante (Bayern Munich), Henrique (Napoli); Luiz Gustavo (Wolfsburg), Paulinho (Tottenham), Ramires (Chelsea), Fernandinho (Manchester City), Oscar (Chelsea), Willian (Chelsea), Hernanes (Inter Milan), Bernard (Shakhtar Donetsk); Fred (Fluminense), Neymar (Barcelona), Hulk (Zenit St Petersburg), Jo (Atletico Mineiro).
Manager: Luiz Felipe Scolari
World Cup record: Five-time winners (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002), twice runners-up (1950, 1998), twice third (1938, 1978), fourth (1974)
How they qualified: Automatically as hosts
Other competitive internationals (most recent 1st): Brazil's only recent competitive action saw them run out impressive winners of the 2013 Confederations Cup on home soil, winning all five games. Fred scored five goals - losing out on the Golden Boot to Fernando Torres on tie-breakers - while Neymar scored four, with Jo and Paulinho netting two apiece. Seven Brazilians were named in the team of the tournament.
v Spain (home) 3-0 (HT 2-0) Fred 2, 47, Neymar 44
v Uruguay (home) 2-1 (HT 1-0) Fred 41, Paulinho 86
v Italy (home) 4-2 (HT 1-0) Dante 45, Neymar 55, Fred 66, 89
v Mexico (home) 2-0 (HT 1-0) Neymar 9, Jo 90
v Japan 3-0 (HT 1-0) Neymar 3, Paulinho 48, Jo 90
Goalscorers: With no qualifying to go on, we'll consider the Confederations Cup with these stats. Here it is worth noting that Neymar - among the favourites for the Golden Boot for the World Cup - was outscored by Fred by five goals to four (Fred lost out on the Golden Boot to Fernando Torres on tie-breakers). Jo and Paulinho netted two apiece.
Half-time/full-time: In their five games at last year's tournament, Brazil led in each of them at the break.
Clean sheets: Three of Brazil's five wins were 'to nil' and they did not concede a single goal in the first half.
Win to nil: See above.
Cards: Brazil picked up eight yellow cards in their five Confederations Cup matches, no more than three coming in a single game.
Build-up (most recent 1st): Brazil have played only friendlies for the last year, with matches spread around the globe from Florida to Beijing. Brazil have won their last nine of these games - against mixed opposition it must be said - but did go down 1-0 to Switzerland in Basel last August. In seven of their nine wins they led at half-time.
v Serbia (home) 1-0 (HT 0-0) Fred 58
v Panama (home) 4-0 (HT 2-0) Neymar 27, Dani Alves 40, Hulk 46, Willian 73
v South Africa (away) 5-0 (HT 2-0) Oscar 10, Neymar 41, 46, 90, Fernandinho 79
v Chile (neutral) 2-1 (HT 1-0) Hulk 14, Robinho 79
v Honduras (neutral) 5-0 (HT 1-0) Bernard 22, Dante 55, Maicon 66, Willian 70, Hulk 74
v Zambia (neutral) 2-0 (HT 0-0) Oscar 59, Dede 66
South Korea (away) 2-0 (HT 1-0) Neymar 44, Oscar 49
v Portugal (neutral) 3-1 (HT 2-1) Thiago Silva 24, Neymar 34, Jo 49
v Australia (home) 6-0 (HT 3-0) Jo 8, 34, Neymar 36, Ramires 58, Alexandre Pato 73, Luiz Gustavo 84
v Switzerland (away) 0-1 (HT 0-0)
Team verdict: Luiz Felipe Scolari's team are under huge pressure: only a sixth world title and first on home soil will be acceptable. The signs at the Confederations Cup were hugely encouraging, with Brazil looking like a team aware of the lofty expectations but ready and willing to match them.
They swept past Italy, Uruguay and Spain to take the title and there is real belief that the hosts will be the team to beat.
Scolari has set the team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho's work in linking defence and attack key to both their defensive solidity and attacking prowess.
Hulk, Oscar and Neymar operate behind target man Fred. It's a first XI full of quality, with the likes of Robinho, Willian, Fernandinho and Ramires providing high-quality depth off the bench.
Only the form of long-term first-choice keeper Julio Cesar is of real concern following his recent inactivity.
The group draw has been kind too. Cameroon are weaker than at any time in the last 20 years, Mexico only just scraped through qualifying and Croatia are a good, industrious side but hardly among the elite.
Winning the group should be a formality, with the only slight concern a fixture list that pits them against the next best team in the group, Croatia, first up. But in truth, after Brazil's performances at the Confederations Cup last time out, anything less than three victories would be a surprise.
Things quickly get tougher from there, though, with Spain or Holland likely to be the last-16 opponents.
"Brazil will fear no-one, though, and while outright odds of around 3/1 are skinny it's hard to argue with their position at the head of the betting."
The hosts are short prices in all the obvious markets, with even a Brazil/Neymar winner/top goalscorer double paying no more than 20/1.
A seemingly straightforward group-stage draw and the likelihood of Spain or Holland lying in wait makes a last-16 exit worth considering at 3/1, while a glance beyond Neymar in the top goalscorer markets may pay dividends.
Fred outscored him at the Confederations Cup, while Jo has been among the goals in recent friendlies. It may be prudent to see which of those two is handed a starting berth before handing over any cash even if it means taking a slightly shorter price.
Best bet (with Sky Bet): Brazil to win nine points in Group A at 10/11. Brazil should have far too much quality for their opponents in this section. Anything approaching their Confederations Cup form of 12 months ago should secure maximum points.
Outright odds (with Sky Bet): 175/1
To win group: 8/1
To qualify: 11/10
Full squad: Stipe Pletikosa (Rostov), Danijel Subasic (Monaco), Oliver Zelenika (Lokomotiv Moscow), Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk), Dejan Lovren (Southampton), Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow), Gordon Schildenfeld (Panathinaikos), Danijel Pranjic (Panathinaikos), Domagoj Vida (Dinamo Kiev), Sime Vrsaljko (Genoa), Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla), Ognjen Vukojevic (Dynamo Kiev), Ivan Perisic (Wolfsburg), Mateo Kovacic (Inter Milan), Marcelo Brozovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Ivan Mocinic (Rijeka), Sammir (Getafe), Mario Mandzukic (Bayern Munich), Ivica Olic (Wolfsburg), Eduardo da Silva (Shakhtar Donetsk), Nikica Jelavic (Hull), Ante Rebic (Fiorentina).
Manager: Niko Kovac
World Cup record: Third (1998), twice group stage (2002, 2006)
How they qualified (most recent 1st): Beat surprise packages Iceland 2-0 on aggregate in a play-off after finishing second in UEFA Qualifying Group A, nine points adrift of winners Belgium and three clear of Serbia. Having started their campaign with five wins and a draw in their first six games, Croatia then picked up just one point in the last four to rather stumble into the play-offs.
v Iceland (home) 2-0 (HT 1-0) Mandzukic 27, Srna 47
v Iceland (away) 0-0 (HT 0-0)
v Scotland (away) 0-2 (HT 0-1)
v Belgium (home) 1-2 (HT 0-2) Kranjcar 83
v Serbia (away) 1-1 (HT 0-0) Mandzukic 53
v Scotland (home) 0-1 (HT 0-1)
v Wales (away) 2-1 (HT 0-1) Lovren 77, Eduardo 87
v Serbia (home) 2-0 (HT 2-0) Mandzukic 23, Olic 37
v Wales (home) 2-0 (HT 1-0) Mandzukic 27, Eduardo 57
v Macedonia (away) 2-1 (HT 1-1) Corluka 33, Rakitic 60
v Belgium (away) 1-1 (HT 1-1) Perisic 6
v Macedonia (home) 1-0 (HT 0-0) Jelavic 69
Goalscorers: Croatia struggled for goals throughout the campaign, never scoring more than twice in any game and netting only 14 goals in their 12 games. Only Mandzukic (four) scored more than twice. Eduardo and Olic managed two apiece.
Half-time/full-time: Croatia led at the break in four of their six victories, and were unbeaten in matches where they reached half-time at least all square. They overturned a half-time deficit to defeat Wales in Swansea.
Clean sheets: Croatia achieved five shutouts in 12 qualifiers. Before keeping out Iceland over two legs in the play-off, Croatia had conceded in five consecutive games. Nine of Croatia's 12 games featured under 2.5 goals; the other three finished 2-1.
Win to nil: Four out of six Croatia wins were to nil, three of them by a 2-0 scoreline.
Cards: Croatia picked up 27 bookings and two red cards across 12 games. Counting reds as two, there were 50 cards altogether in their matches at an average of 4.17 per game.
Other competitive internationals: Croatia have played no more competitive football than qualifying since finishing third behind Spain and Italy in the group stage of Euro 2012.
Build-up (most recent 1st): Croatia beat Mali 2-1 on May 31 and concluded their preparations against fellow World Cup qualifiers Australia with a 1-0 win in Salvador. They played a 2-2 draw against Switzerland in March.
v Australia 1(neutral) 1-0 (HT 0-0) Jelavic 58
v Mali (home) 2-1 (HT 1-0) Perisic 15, 63
v Switzerland (away) 2-2 (HT 2-1) Olic 39, 54
Team verdict: Boasting a squad that combines technical skill and plenty of industry, qualification from the group stage will be a minimum target for Croatia.
Coach Niko Kovac won 83 caps as the hardest-working of midfielders and will demand similar industry from his players here.
Coupled with the talents of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mario Mandzukic, Eduardo and Ivica Olic, it's a formula that should see them perform well in Brazil.
A crucial factor in Croatia's campaign is the fact they kick off against Brazil. There are two ways of looking at that. The optimistic way is that there will be no better chance of catching the hosts and favourites off guard than in the opening game; the pessimistic is that it may leave them three points second place after the first round of fixtures.
Croatia's solidity was highlighted by a qualifying campaign in which no game produced more than three goals, and they would feel confident of at the very least preventing Brazil from inflicting a heavy, confidence-sapping defeat in that opening game.
From there they should be able to see off Cameroon before a winner-takes-all closer against Mexico.
Best bet (with Sky Bet): Brazil/Croatia/Mexico tricast at 13/5 looks the best value way of backing Croatia to qualify alongside the hosts.
Outright odds (with Sky Bet): 200/1
To win group: 9/1
To qualify: 11/8
Full squad: Jesus Corona (Cruz Azul), Guillermo Ochoa (Ajaccio), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca), Rafael Marquez (Leon), Diego Reyes (Porto), Hector Moreno (Espanyol), Paul Aguilar (America), Carlos Salcido (Tigres), Francisco 'Maza' Rodriguez (America), Miguel Layun (America), Andres Guardado (Bayer Leverkusen), Jose Juan Vazquez (Leon), Juan Carlos Medina (America), Hector Herrera (Porto), Carlos Pena (Leon), Luis Montes (Leon), Marco Fabian (Cruz Azul), Isaac Brizuela (Toluca), Oribe Peralta (Santos Laguna), Javier Hernandez (Manchester United), Raul Jimenez (America), Alan Pulido (Tigres), Giovani dos Santos (Villarreal).
Manager: Miguel Herrera
World Cup record: Twice quarter-finalists (1970, 1986), five-time last 16 (1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010)
How they qualified (most recent 1st): Unimpressively. After predictably cruising into the final six-team qualification group, CONCACAF heavyweights Mexico laboured to fourth spot and a play-off against New Zealand after winning only two of their 10 games and scoring just seven goals. New Zealand, though, were admittedly dispatched in some style, Mexico prevailing 9-3 on aggregate to secure a sixth straight World Cup finals appearance.
v New Zealand (away) 4-2 (HT 3-0) Peralta 14, 29, 33, Pena 86
v New Zealand (home) 5-1 (HT 2-0) Aguilar 32, Jimenez 40, Peralta 48, 80, Marquez 84
v Costa Rica (away) 1-2 (HT 1-1) Peralta 29
v Panama (home) 2-1 (HT 1-0) Peralta 40, Jimenez 85
v USA (away) 0-2 (HT 0-0)
v Honduras (home) 1-2 (HT 1-0) Peralta 5
v Costa Rica (home) 0-0 (HT 0-0)
v Panama (away) 0-0 (HT 0-0)
v Jamaica (away) 1-0 (HT 0-0) de Nigris 48
v USA (home) 0-0 (HT 0-0)
v Honduras (away) 2-2 (HT 1-0) Hernandez 28, 54
v Jamaica (home) 0-0 (HT 0-0)
v El Salvador (home) 2-0 (HT 0-0) Peralta 64, Hernandez 85
v Guyana (away*) 5-0 (HT 0-0) Guardado 78, Peralta 79, Pollard OG 82, Hernandez 84, Reyna 86
v Costa Rica (home) 1-0 (HT 0-0) Hernadez 61
v Costa Rica (away) 2-0 (1-0) Salcido 43, Zavala 52)
v El Salvador (away) 2-1 (HT 0-0) Zavala 60, Moreno 82)
v Guyana (home) 3-1 (HT 2-0) Salcido 11, Giovani dos Santos 15, Rodrigues OG 51
*Although officially a home match for Guyana, the game was played at the BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston.
Goalscorers: Santos Laguna striker Oribe Peralta scored three of Mexico's seven goals in the final qualifying round, with Javier Hernandez netting twice. Peralta scored five across the two legs against New Zealand and is considered by many observers to be the finest striker playing outside Europe.
Half-time/full-time: Of the two victories in the final qualifying round, Mexico led at the break in one and it was goalless in the other. Looking back to the previous round, and second-half goals were a real feature; Mexico won all six of their games but were 0-0 at the break in four of them. In the 5-0 win away to Guyana the deadlock was not broken until the 78th minute. Ten of Mexico's 16 games across the two rounds of CONCACAF qualification were 0-0 at half-time.
Clean sheets: Mexico kept five clean sheets in their 10 matches in the final qualifying round. Four of those matches ended 0-0. There were only 16 goals - seven for, nine against - in Mexico's matches. In the previous round, Mexico conceded just two goals - one each to Guyana and El Salvador - and ended the six-match group stage with four consecutive clean sheets. New Zealand scored in both legs of the play-off despite being outclassed.
Win to nil: After those four straight wins to nil at the end of the third CONCACAF qualifying round, Mexico managed only one more in the following 12 matches - a 1-0 win away to Jamaica.
Cards: Mexico received just 17 cautions in their last 12 qualifying games. There were no red cards for or against them. In total, there were 39 bookings in total in those 12 matches at 3.25 per match. Eight of those bookings were picked up by New Zealand players in the two-legged play-off.
Other competitive internationals (most recent 1st): Mexico went out in the group stage of the 2013 Confederations Cup following defeats to Italy and Brazil - who they meet again here. An experimental, inexperienced Mexico squad followed that by reaching the semi-finals of the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup in a campaign book-ended by 2-1 defeats against Panama. They beat Canada and Martinique to qualify from the group stage and edged out Trinidad and Tobago in the last eight before their second defeat to Panama in the semi-final. Panama lost 1-0 to hosts, USA, in the final.
v Panama (neutral) 1-2 (HT 1-1) Montes 26
v Trinidad and Tobago (neutral) 1-0 (HT 0-0) Jimenez 84
v Martinique (neutral) 3-1 (HT 2-1) Fabian 21, Montes 34, Ponce 90
v Canada (neutral) 2-0 (HT 1-0) Jimenez 42, Fabian 57p
v Panama (neutral) 1-2 (HT 1-1) Fabian 45
v Japan (neutral) 2-1 (HT 0-0) Hernandez 54, 66
v Brazil (away) 0-2 (HT 0-1)
v Italy (neutral) 1-2 (HT 1-1) Hernandez 34p
Build-up (most recent first): Mexico won four and drew two of the first six games under Herrara, so things appeared to be picking up. But their World Cup preparation saw narrow defeats to Bosnia and Portugal in the USA.
v Portugal (neutral) 0-1 (HT 0-0)
v Bosnia (neutral) 0-1 (HT 0-1)
v Ecuador (neutral) 3-1 (HT 1-0) Montes 33, Fabian 69, Banguera OG 76
v Israel (home) 3-0 (HT 1-0) Layun 43, 62, Fabian 85
v USA (away) 2-2 (HT 0-2) Marquez 49, Pulido 67
v Nigeria (neutral) 0-0 (HT 0-0)
v South Korea (neutral) 4-0 (HT 2-0) Peralta 37, Pulido 45, 86, 89
v Ivory Coast (neutral) 4-1 (HT 3-0) Boka OG 11, Peralta 28, 45, Reyna 90
Team verdict: Mexico have gone out in the last 16 at the last five World Cups. They will be looking to finally go further but look to have a tough task just to match that achievement.
A shambolic qualification campaign saw them win just two of 10 games in the decisive six-team fourth round of CONCACAF qualifying and even the emphatic dispatching of New Zealand in the subsequent play-off couldn't mask the problems in the squad.
Carlos Vela is still on self-imposed international exile and coach Herrera has shown a tendency to favour players from the domestic Liga players over the established stars plying their trade in Europe.
It's a risky strategy, but one that has helped achieve improved results in the friendlies played over the last 12 months.
Herrera favours a 5-3-2 formation that requires the wing-backs to provide plenty of assistance to the forward forays.
And that may offer a possible betting opportunity. With goals likely to be at a premium for Mexico - the most relevant formline here is surely the seven they managed in 10 games against the rest of CONCACAF's elite - it's very possible that one goal could land the honours (or a share at least) of the top Mexico goalscorer market.
That makes the 40/1 offered about marauding left-back Miguel Layun enticing indeed. He is a real threat going forward, has a fine cross and shot and netted twice in the recent friendly win over Israel.
Best bet (with Sky Bet): Miguel Layun to be top Mexico goalscorer at 40/1.
Outright odds: 750/1
To win group: 25/1
To qualify: 100/30
Full squad: Charles Itandje (Konyaspor), Sammy Ndjock (Fetihespor), Loic Feudjou (Coton Sport); Allan Nyom (Granada), Dany Nounkeu (Besiktas), Cedric Djeugoue (Coton Sport), Aurelien Chedjou (Galatasaray), Nicolas Nkoulou (Marseille), Henri Bedimo (Lyon), Benoit Assou-Ekotto (Tottenham Hotspur); Eyong Enoh (Antalyaspor), Jean Makoun (Rennes), Joel Matip (Schalke), Stephane Mbia (QPR), Landry Nguemo (Bordeaux), Alex Song (Barcelona), Edgar Salli (Lens); Samuel Eto'o (unattached), Eric Choupo Moting (Mainz), Benjamin Moukandjo (Nancy), Vincent Aboubakar (Lorient), Pierre Webo (Fenerbahce), Fabrice Olinga (Zulte-Waregem).
Manager: Volker Finke
World Cup record: Quarter-finalists (1990), Five-time group stage (1982, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2010)
How they qualified (most recent 1st): Won a two-legged play-off against Tunisia 4-1 on aggregate after topping their qualifying group with 13 points from six games. The pool included Libya, DR Congo and Togo. It should be noted that the 3-0 victory away to Togo was in fact a 2-0 defeat, but the match was awarded to Cameroon after Togo were found to have fielded an ineligible player. Togo led 1-0 at half-time in that match.
v Tunisia (home) 4-1 (HT 2-0) Webo 4, Moukandjo 30, Makoun 65, 86
v Tunisia (away) 0-0 (HT 0-0)
v Libya (home) 1-0 (HT 1-0) Chedjou 41
v DR Congo (away) 0-0 (HT 0-0)
v Togo (away) 3-0 (scoreline awarded after Togo fielded ineligible player)
v Togo (home) 2-1 (HT 1-1) Eto'o 41p, 82
v Libya (away) 1-2 (HT 1-1) Choupo-Moting 15
v DR Congo (home) 1-0 (HT 0-0) Choupo-Moting 54p
Goalscorers: Before the 4-1 thumping of Tunisia in the second leg of the play-off, goals were desperately hard to come by for Cameroon, with a mere five in their other seven qualifiers (discounting the three 'goals' in the match forfeited by Togo). Jean Makoun's two second-half goals against Tunisia matched the total contribution of any other individual player during the whole qualification campaign.
Half-time/full-time: In Cameroon's three normal wins in their six-game group stage, they led at the break only once. Five of their eight matches in total (including the Togo game as it was played rather than as it was later awarded) were all-square at the break. Two of the three games goalless at half-time stayed that way at 90 minutes.
Clean sheets: Cameroon kept four clean sheets at a ratio of 50% (again treating the Togo game as a 2-0 defeat). Two of those were against DR Congo, but shutting out Tunisia in the first leg of the play-off is notable.
Win to nil: Two of Cameroon's four orthodox wins were to nil. Both those were 1-0 wins, and both were at home, against Libya and DR Congo.
Cards: Cameroon's eight qualifiers produced 24 yellow cards at an average of three per game. There were no red cards. Cameroon received at least caution in every game they played, but on four occasions received only one. They picked up just five cautions in their last four qualifiers, with a total of just nine in those games.
Other competitive internationals: None since autumn 2012 after Cameroon failed to qualify for the 2013 African Cup of Nations, going down 3-2 on aggregate to Cape Verde in the second qualifying round.
Build-up (most recent 1st): The Indomitable Lions have prepared for the World Cup with victory over Macedonia, a 2-1 defeat to Paraguay and a creditable 2-2 draw with Germany. They were thrashed by Portugal in Leiria in March.
v Germany (neutral) 2-2 (HT 0-0) Eto'o 62, Choupo-Moting 78
v Paraguay (neutral) 1-2 (HT 0-1) Choupo-Moting 75
v Macedonia (neutral) 2-0 (HT 0-0) Webo 52, Choupo-Moting 84
v Portugal (away) 1-5 (HT 1-1) Aboubaker 43
Team verdict: This may be the weakest Cameroon squad to reach a World Cup finals. They could easily have missed out on qualification had Togo not selected an ineligible player, turning a 2-0 defeat for Cameroon into a 3-0 victory.
"Cameroon have won only one match in the World Cup finals since their run to the last eight of Italia 90 and it would be no surprise if they were to fail to add to that number here."
Both Mexico and Croatia will know that beating Cameroon is vital to their own chances of getting out of the group alongside Brazil.
Their best chance of success would appear to be packing the midfield with teak-tough enforcers and hoping to frustrate their opponent and perhaps pinching something through a moment of brilliance from Samuel Eto'o.
But it's not a plan that looks to have great chances of success. Cameroon look overmatched in all areas and could already be out of contention before closing their group campaign against the hosts in Brasilia.
With the focus likely to be on stifling opponents, 7/1 quotes that Cameroon fail to score a goal shouldn't be dismissed out of hand and nor should 10/3 that they lose all three matches.
Best bet (with Sky Bet): Brazil/Cameroon top/bottom double at 10/11.
Brazil are the class of this group and should win it comfortably, probably with three wins.
In contrast, Cameroon look up against it and having failed to convince in qualifying, I'm happy to rule them out of the knockout-stage scenario.
The biggest issue in this group looks to be whether Croatia or Mexico make it through behind the hosts and, for me, it is the Europeans who make more appeal.
They were hard to beat in qualifying and their industrious approach is backed up by some talented players such as Luka Modric, of Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich's Mario Mandzukic.
Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon is my 1-2-3-4 for this one.
- Prices correct as of June 2.