With just over 50 days to go before World Cup 2014 kicks off with hosts Brazil taking on Croatia at the Arena de Sao Paulo, we will begin previewing a different group each week until the start of the tournament, starting with Group A. Hosts and pre tournament favourites Brazil feature in this group alongside Croatia, Cameroon and Mexico.
As at the beginning of all World Cups for the last 20 years, Brazil is one of the favourites having won the famous trophy on 5 different occasions. The fact that this year’s competition is being held on Brazilian soil for the first time since 1950 should also give the Brazilians an added advantage. As hosts of the tournament, Brazil was exempt from partaking in an arduous qualifying campaign which could work in their favour.
World Cup after World Cup has shown us that all a team needs is a moment of brilliance from one of their players and the entire complexity of the group will change. In this post, we will be looking at the players to watch from the four teams in Group A.
One of the players to focus on in the Brazilian team is Barcelona midfielder Neymar who will be making his first appearance at a World Cup this year. He is expected to provide the creative spark to drive his country forward. When looking at his performances in the famed yellow and green (although sometimes blue too) shirt, we saw that he records a rate of 43.4% good dribbles per game that improve his team’s position on the field whilst 33.1% of his dribbles were bad and proved detrimental to the team. He is also the best passer in the team, with 26% of his passes improving the team’s position. When it comes to crosses, however, we saw that in fact Lucas Moura is the strongest player with 53.8% of his crosses improving his team’s chances.
When looking at Croatia who secured their spot in the competition after a two legged match against Iceland will be looking to Real Madrid star Luca Modric for inspiration. In the games played between 2012 and 2014, Modric’s attacking actions moved the team into a position from which a chance on goal could have been created 8.3 times per game. In terms of taking shots, once the team was in a position to do so, we saw that Ivan Perišić would take, on average 5.7 shots per game although he only scores 0.13 goals per game. Their top scorer, on the other hand, is Eduardo De Silva who manages to score 0.8 goals per game.
The third team in the group is the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon. This is the 7th time that they have qualified for the finals – more than any other African team and was the first team from Africa to make it out of the group stage. In their games over the last two years we found that Barcelona midfielder Alex Song is at the heart of their attacks. He makes 89.57 attacking actions per game but also loses the ball 8.04 times per game. As can be expected, the Cameroon will be very busy when coming up against players like Neymar and Modric so central to this will be Nicolas N’Koulou. In the games that we looked at, he made 34.6 defensive actions per game of which 45% helped out the team. Whilst Aurélien Chedjou has a higher success rate (51.5%), he does make less defensive actions than N’Koulou
The final country in Group A is Mexico. After a disastrous qualifying round, during which they had 4 different managers, they sneaked onto the plane to Brazil courtesy of a play-off win against New Zealand. In terms of players to watch, we found the most expensive Mexican player in history, Andrés Guardado, to be the main chance creator. He crosses the ball into the box 17.01 times per game and created 5.9 chances per game. In terms of taking those chances and converting them into goals, it is left up to Oribe Peralta and Javier Hernández with Peralta scoring 1.4 goals per game and Hernández 1.2. Peralta has proven to be a strong player as he manages to score from 28% of his chances whereas Hernández only manages to do the same from 15% of his own chances.
Whilst Brazil is expected to go through this group, it is by no means certain that this will happen. One only needs look at France at World Cup 2002. They went into the tournament as reigning World and European champions but failed to win a game or score a single goal as they were eliminated from the group stage. All it takes is a moment of brilliance from one of these players – but who will it be?