The World Cup kicks off on Thursday with the opening ceremonies (yes, featuring Jennifer Lopez) and the opening match of the tournament. Here’s what to look for from Brazil.
Brazil vs. Croatia in Sao Paulo, 4 p.m. EDT, ESPN
Just about everyone (and a turtle) is picking Brazil to win it all, and the Selecao won’t be happy with anything except three points in the opener against Croatia, seen by some as the second-best team in the group. As the host, Brazil automatically qualified for the World Cup and could have fresher legs than its opponents. Brazil striker Neymar threw a scare into the country on Monday, when he suffered a mild ankle injury in practice, but should be good to go. There is some precedent for the favorite struggling in its first game: Defending champion Argentina lost its opener to Belgium in 1982, Italy could only manage a draw with Bulgaria in 1986, Cameroon scored a shocking 1-0 victory over defending champion Argentina in 1990 (despite finishing with only nine men) and defending champion France lost to Senegal in 2002.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Eduardo da Silva will play for Croatia even though he was born and raised in Brazil. The 31-year-old striker admitted he’ll have mixed feelings about facing his home country, and he might just sing both national anthems. Since being plucked out of a Rio slum in 1999 and coming to Croatia, where he became a citizen in 2002, Da Silva has scored 29 international goals, second most in the country’s history behind Davor Suker. “He is Croatian for work. But in his heart he is Brazilian,” his brother told the Associated Press.
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