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Wednesday, 11 June 2014

World Cup 2014 Group A Picks (June 12-23)

The hosts and five time former Winners of the World Cup, Brazil, are in Group A along with 1998 Semi Finalists, Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon and I will be making picks from the games in this section.

You can find my outright picks from the tournament here

Group B picks will be made here

Group C picks will be made here

Group D picks will be made here

Group E picks will be made here

Group F picks will be made here

Group G picks will be made here

Group H picks will be made here

Thursday 12 June
Brazil v Croatia Pick: The hosts will kick off the World Cup and there will be an expectation that Brazil will become the latest host nation to avoid defeat in their opening game at the tournament, although most will be expecting them to add to the fourteen previous winners from the twenty tournaments hosted.

There has been a lot of political unrest and delays in production in the lead up to the World Cup over the last couple of years, but now the Samba Stars have a chance to give the nation something to smile about. A 1-0 win over Serbia in the final warm up game was greeted with jeers as neither the style nor the margin of their victory was seen as good enough for the fans in attendance.

Group A has given Brazil the perfect chance to get off to a positive start to the tournament, one that they will be expected to win to exorcise the ghosts of the 1950 World Cup that was lost on home soil.

I am not suggesting that Croatia are going to be walkovers as they will look to make the game tight and try to build the pressure on Brazil by making the fans nervous which is then transferred onto the players in yellow on the pitch. Croatia proved they can defend effectively in qualification, although a lack of pace at the back has to be a concern against the likes of Neymar and Hulk.

Another couple of results that I can't shift from the mind are the two losses Croatia suffered at the hands of Scotland in the qualifiers, while they are missing the services of Mario Mandzukic who is suspended as well as Josip Simunic who was banned for leading racist chants at the end of their Play Off win to get to Brazil.

The Croatians are telling the media that they are not going to sit back, but damage limitation may help them in the remainder of the Group where goal difference could potentially be a real factor to determine who follows Brazil out of the section. However, Brazil showed in the Confederations Cup in how difficult they can be to contain at home, especially if they score an early goal, as they won four of their five games in that tournament by at least two goals.

These teams did meet in Germany at the World Cup in 2006 in a game that ended with a 1-0 win for Brazil, but I expect this one to be a little more comfortable for the hosts who can give their fans something to smile about with an opening win.

Mexico v Cameroon Pick: I have picked Mexico to follow Brazil out of Group A, although the performance of the Croatians in the opening game suggests they could be good enough to move through. This isn't a vintage Mexican team who struggled through qualifiers and lost their last two warm-up games, but that hasn't stopped their manager saying they can 'win the World Cup'.

That looks a little too optimistic for me and I think getting through to the Second Round is the limit of what this team can achieve and that means beating Cameroon, another team that didn't have the best time through the World Cup qualifiers.

Cameroon have only just arrived in Brazil after the players almost refused to play thanks to a pay dispute and this camp looks a little fractured if I am honest. The last time something like this happened that comes to mind for me is when Togo almost refused to take part in the World Cup in Germany in 2006 and that didn't end well for them.

With those off-field disputes, it was no surprise that Togo lost all three games they played in the 2006 Group Stage and Cameroon will do well to avoid that fate themselves. An impressive 2-2 draw with Germany in the warm up games may have given the team a boost of confidence, especially as they were beaten by a young Paraguay team and barely beat Moldova.

There is talent in the Cameroon squad, especially in the forward positions, but this squad is never far away from the off-field drama that can destroy the morale and effort on the field. This will likely be a tight game, but Mexico might just have the edge with a little more confidence in the squad and they can pick up a vital three points before taking on the hosts in their next game.

The first two games in Group A didn't produce any surprise results with the two favourites, Brazil and Mexico, seeing off Croatia and Cameroon respectively. However, Croatia were very unfortunate not to get something from the game with Brazil after a controversial penalty allowed the hosts to come from a goal behind to lead and the eventual 3-1 scoreline was very flattering.

Croatia and Mexico are likely to fight out the second place in the Group if Cameroon don't drastically improve on their first showing when a 1-0 loss to the Central Americans could have been a lot worse if not for some poor decisions from the Assistant Referee. The biggest concern for Croatia may be the injury to Luka Modric as it leaves him doubtful for the rest of the tournament.

Brazil v Mexico Pick: I am not sure if it was down to nerves, but the Brazil team that opened the World Cup was a far cry from the one that dominated the Confederations Cup a year ago and I think we may see a much improved performance with the nerves subsiding a little bit.

The win over Croatia puts Brazil in a strong spot in the Group and another over Mexico likely secures top spot, although that may also mean a potential meeting with Spain in the Second Round. Phil Scolari won't worry about that for now as the main task is ensuring Brazil beat a team that has a history of success against them.

Mexico played well in the first game of the Group, but it is arguable that Cameroon made them look a lot better than they may actually be. The attention may already be turned to the game with Croatia which could decide who finishes behind Brazil in the Group, although Miguel Herrera may even be expecting to top the section following claims that Mexico can win the World Cup.

It does leave Mexico in a tough spot as they might be aware of the goal difference being a potential factor in the Group and so don't play as open a game as they did in the win over Cameroon. I am also expecting a much better Brazil than we saw in the opening game as the tournament has really gotten underway now and the players may just have a little more freedom to show what they can do.

It took a late Jo goal to secure a 2-0 win over Mexico at the Confederations Cup for Brazil twelve months ago when Scolari described them as having given the hosts more to think about than Spain. That shows that Brazil respect Mexico and so the focus should be there to record a similar result in this third game in Group A.

Cameroon v Croatia Pick: The result between Brazil and Mexico means the loser of this game would be the first team out of the World Cup (assuming Spain beat Chile as I have predicted) and I do wonder if that means we will see a more cautious game than what we have seen up to this point in the tournament.

To be perfectly honest, Cameroon were atrocious in the first game against Mexico and the 1-0 loss was more to do with poor officiating than it was from any performance from the African team. I mentioned the performances of Togo in 2006 after they almost boycotted the tournament unless paid the bonuses they expected and a similar situation with Cameroon may have broken a usually fragile relationship the players seem to have with one another.

Mario Mandzukic returns for Croatia and gives them an added impetus up front, but Luka Modric is a doubt and that does take away some of the forward momentum that the Real Madrid midfielder provides.

Croatia also have a different mentality in this game compared to one against Brazil as the onus is on them to attack, particularly as they will need a win by two or more goals against Mexico if they fail to win this game. The manager has spoken about taking control of this game, but there is no doubt that Croatia can struggle for goals and that makes this a far more dangerous game than the layers may think.

With Modric a doubt, it would make it that much more difficult to break down a Cameroon team, but Croatia should have too much quality in their ranks and I don't know if Cameroon have the desire that is required. They aren't out of the competition, but the bonus argument and performance against Mexico left a lot to be desired and Croatia may squeeze out a narrow victory.

Brazil have been roundly criticised in the media at home, but it was English pundit Alan Shearer who has taken the 'bite back' from the squad after his 'attack' on Fred. The goalless draw with Mexico has left Brazil in a slightly awkward spot of knowing a loss and a draw in the other game of the Group would actually knock the hosts out of their own tournament.

Fortunately for Brazil, they are playing a Cameroon squad that is in disarray after Alex Song's ridiculous sending off against Croatia which was followed by Benoit Assou-Ekotto head-butting his own team-mate. My fear for Cameroon ahead of the tournament thanks to their bonus complaints has worked its way over to the event and they look the perfect opposition for Brazil to 'get going'.

The other game in the Group should then be a straight shoot out for the second place and both Croatia and Mexico will be confident they can achieve their aims. The latter have the advantage knowing a draw will be good enough to move through, but that should be a fascinating encounter between the two teams that have both produced good performances against Brazil this tournament, although Mexico had slightly more 'fortune' than the Croatians in earning a point.

Cameroon v Brazil Pick: My fear for Cameroon before the tournament began has come true and I think they are fortunate to have 'only' conceded five goals to this point of the competition. Unfortunately for them, they face the 'best' team in the Group and a Brazil team that wants to make a statement before the going gets tough for them this weekend when they will play either Chile or Holland in the Second Round.

The conspiracy theory is that Brazil can decide who they want to play because they will know the final Group B standings before kick off, but I think it is unlikely that Brazil can take a backwards step and sneak through for a 'better draw'.

The fans are upset, the media have been highly critical of Brazil and this game represents as good an opportunity for them to put some goals into the back of the net and build confidence for the next three weeks ahead. Cameroon are probably already going home mentally and I can't see them putting up a lot of resistance if they fall behind early and it could be another big defeat for them.

Brazil battered Cameroon 3-0 when they met in the Group Stage twenty years ago and they might record something similar if the African nation shows as little stomach for the fight as they have to this point of the tournament.

Croatia v Mexico Pick: The layers are finding it hard to separate these two nations and the performances up to this point back that up with both Croatia and Mexico dominating Cameroon and giving Brazil fits.

The difference for the teams is the onus is on Croatia to attack and win the game after Mexico picked up a vital point against Brazil.

That is a dangerous position for Croatia because I do think this Mexico team has the pace to cause problems if the Europeans get a little desperate chasing a winner and I can see there being a few goals in the game.

However, neither team has always been known for a lot of goals in the side and even the Croatia game against Cameroon only really opened up when Alex Song inexplicably got himself sent off. That lessens my enthusiasm for the over 2.5 goals option in this one, but I think a small interest on Mexico to find a late winner as Croatia perhaps chase the game is the right call.

GROUP A PICKS: Brazil - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.92 Bet Victor (2 Units) versus Croatia
Mexico @ 2.30 Paddy Power (2 Units) versus Cameroon
Brazil - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.14 Pinnacle (2 Units) versus Mexico
Croatia to Win and Under 2.5 Goals Scored @ 3.60 Bet365 (1 Unit) versus Cameroon
Brazil - 2.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units) versus Cameroon
Mexico @ 2.80 Coral (1 Unit) versus Croatia

Group A Update: 4-2, + 5.24 Units (10 Units Staked, + 52.40% Yield)

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