By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – With less than two months to go until the FIFA World Cup immense pressure rests on Brazil’s players, and coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, to lift a sixth World Cup trophy. The Seleção Brasileira have never lifted football’s biggest prize on home soil, losing the 1950 final 2-1 to Uruguay, the only other time the country has hosted the tournament.
This year they are once again among the favorites for the crown and have been drawn in what should be a relatively straightforward group. Brazil are in Group A alongside Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon.
Brazil versus Croatia
Friday, June 12th
Arena Corinthians in São Paulo
The hosts kick-off the tournament, on Friday, June 12th, against eastern European nation Croatia. The game will be played at the Arena Corinthians in São Paulo, a brand new stadium built for the World Cup and afterwards for exclusive use by Paulista club Corinthians.
Having failed to qualify for the previous tournament in South Africa, the Croatians progressed to Brazil at the expense of Iceland in a play-off. After the successful spell of coach Slaven Bilic new head coach Niko Kovac has a wealth of attacking options to choose from. The likes of Mario Mandzukic, Ivica Olic and Nikica Jelavic mean the Croats best form of defense is often offense.
Brazil versus Mexico
Wednesday, June 17th
Estádio Castellão in Fortaleza
The side move away from the country’s industrial capital for their second outing. On June 17th Brazil face Mexico at the Estádio Castelão in Fortaleza. The arena was used during the Confederations Cup and hosted three games at the World Cup dress rehearsal, including the semi-final between European giants Spain and Italy.
Brazil and Mexico have recent previous history, the two national sides have met in each of the last two years, meaning June’s group game will be the third consecutive year the countries have faced off in competitive action. Mexico got the upper hand in 2012 and lifted gold at the Olympic Games in London, overcoming Brazil 2-1 in the final.
Last year, during the Confederations Cup, goals from Neymar and Jô gave Brazil a comfortable 2-0 win as the side avenged that Olympic defeat. That game was also played at the Castelão, which could serve as a lucky omen for the hosts.
Brazil versus Cameroon
Tuesday, June 23rd
Estádio Mané Garrincha in Brasília
Brazil’s final group game is at the Estádio Mané Garrincha in Brasília on June 23rd. The Seleção take on African nation Cameroon. The arena was the scene of the opening game for the Confederations Cup, in which Brazil dispatched Japan 3-0. This year it will host seven World Cup games.
Cameroon will be looking to improve on a dismal 2010 World Cup showing. The Lions were the first side of the 32 to be eliminated following defeats to Denmark and Japan.
They were also defeated in their final group game by Holland, meaning they left the tournament without a single point. They will again be looking to veteran forward Samuel Eto’o to fire their frontline in Brazil following a straightforward qualification process.
The contest against Cameroon could be vital in ensuring Brazil top Group A. In the first knock-out round, those who progress from Group A are pitted against the top two from Group B. In all likelihood that means Brazil will be facing one of Spain, Holland or Chile in the second round. Australia, the fourth nation making up Group B, are considered to only have an outside chance of progressing.
In February, Coach Scolari, confirmed his squad for the friendly against South Africa on March 5th in Johannesburg. The game will be the Seleção’s (national team) final match before Felipão must name his 23-man squad for the FIFA World Cup on May 7th.
After that, Scolari and Brazil will have two more friendlies before the World Cup kicks off. The Seleção should face Panama in Goiânia on June 3rd before playing Serbia on June 6th at São Paulo’s Morumbi Stadium.
Scolari, who was in charge when Brazil won their last World Cup title in 2002, said after the victory over Honduras on Saturday, November 16th. “Brazil aren’t just one of the favorites to be champions. Brazil are going to be champions.”