World Cup 2014: Guide to Brazil's Group A

BRAZIL (seeded)

How do they play?

Style & formation: The flicks and tricks remain second nature, but this Brazil side is also resilient and well organised, moulded by the pragmatism of 2002 World Cup winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari.

They press the opposition high up the pitch, while midfielder Luiz Gustavo acts as an auxiliary third centre-back - allowing the full-backs and the likes of centre-back David Luiz to venture forward.

Brazil usually adopt a 4-2-3-1 formation and are not afraid to be direct, often seeking out the flamboyant Neymar on the left with long balls from the back.

Strengths: Take your pick. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has the required major tournament know-how, the players are talented and well-drilled, the strong team spirit is abundantly evident and a passionate home crowd will surely inspire the team again, as they did at the Confederations Cup last summer.

Weaknesses: The paucity of centre forward options is a potential concern. First-choice Fred has been injured for five months this season, Jo's form has faltered, and Diego Costa opted to represent Spain.

First-team regulars Neymar, Paulinho and Oscar have also had a critical press over their club performances.

Key player

Believe the hype; Neymar is pivotal to Brazil. Full of energy and deft touches, and able to dribble at incredible speed, he is the player most capable of changing a game for Luiz Felipe Scolari's side.

The 22-year-old World Cup poster boy must put aside a difficult second half of the season with Barcelona after the club were investigated for tax fraud over his transfer last summer.

Neymar

Neymar has been in prolific form for Brazil

One to watch

Strong in the air and composed in possession, captain Thiago Silva was the only defender shortlisted for the 2013 Fifa Ballon d'Or.

He is worthy of a place in the great 1970 Brazil side in the opinion of World Cup winner Rivelino.

The boss

Reappointed in November 2012, World Cup-winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has recovered from a poor start to his second spell in charge to shape Brazil into a side he is "100% sure… will be the champion" this summer.

The 65-year-old led Portugal to the Euro 2004 final, 2006 World Cup semi-finals and last eight at Euro 2008 between his spells as Brazil boss.

The key to this transformation, according to defender Dante, is Scolari's paternal approach.

How they qualified

As hosts.

World Cup record

Brazil are the only nation to have played at every World Cup, winning the competition a record five times, latterly in 2002.

Fifa ranking: 3

Brazil starting line-up

Possible starting line-up

Squad

Goalkeepers: Julio Cesar (Toronto FC, on loan from QPR), Jefferson (Botafogo), Victor (Atletico Mineiro).

Defenders: Marcelo (Real Madrid), Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Maicon (AS Roma), Maxwell, Thiago Silva (both Paris St-Germain), David Luiz (Chelsea), Dante (Bayern Munich), Henrique (Napoli).

Midfielders: Paulinho (Tottenham Hotspur), Ramires, Willian, Oscar (all Chelsea), Hernanes (Inter Milan), Luiz Gustavo (Wolfsburg), Fernandinho (Manchester City).

Forwards: Bernard (Shakhtar Donetsk), Neymar (Barcelona), Fred (Fluminense), Jo (Atletico Mineiro), Hulk (Zenit St Petersburg).

CROATIA

World Cup 2014 team profile: Croatia

Prospects

Croatia lack the depth of talent associated with the golden generation of the late 1990s but they have enough quality to challenge for a place in the knockout stage.

Few nations can boast a midfield pairing with the class of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, while Bayern Munich forward Mario Mandzukic scored an unrivalled 18 goals from open play in the Bundesliga this season.

A ponderous defence, absence of a top-class holding midfielder and limited options in wide positions are all cause for concern.

Key player

Luka Modric excelled for Real Madrid this season in a deep-lying midfield role, which is the position from which he now dictates the tempo for his country.

The slightly-built playmaker's passing accuracy of 89.73% was the highest by a non-Barcelona player in La Liga.

The 28-year-old may no longer be instantly recognisable, however, having had his long, flowing hair cut off the day after winning the Champions League.

One to watch

Ivan Rakitic , 26, has been one of the top performers in Europe this season and captained Sevilla to victory in the Europa League final with a typically classy and all-action display.

The former Switzerland Under-21 international scored a career-best 15 goals in 2013-14. Popular Spanish sport newspaper Marca has described the 26-year-old as a todocampista, a player capable of playing anywhere in midfield.

The boss

Former Croatia captain Niko Kovac was appointed head coach in October after Igor Stimac resigned.

He guided his country though a two-legged play-off against Iceland and will be heading to his third World Cup, having played in 2002 and 2006.

Born in Berlin, he has spoken of Croatia's players needing to adopt German virtues of thoroughness and discipline.

How they qualified

Croatia earned 16 points from their first six fixtures but then lost three games for the first time in a qualifying campaign: twice against Scotland and at home to Belgium.

Given a second chance to qualify via the play-offs, Croatia beat Iceland 2-0 on aggregate.

World Cup record

Croatia memorably finished third on their World Cup debut in 1998 but they failed to progress from the group stage in 2002 and 2006.

Fifa ranking: 18

Squad

Goalkeepers: Stipe Pletikosa (Rostov), Danijel Subasic (Monaco), Oliver Zelenika (Dinamo Zagreb).

Defenders: Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk), Dejan Lovren (Southampton), Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow), Gordon Schildenfeld (Panathinaikos), Danijel Pranjic (Panathinaikos), Domagoj Vida (Dynamo Kiev), Sime Vrsaljko (Genoa).

Midfielders: Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla), Ognjen Vukojevic (Dynamo Kiev), Ivan Perisic (Wolfsburg), Mateo Kovacic (Inter Milan), Marcelo Brozovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Milan Badelj (Hamburg), Sammir (Getafe).

Forwards: Mario Mandzukic (Bayern Munich), Ivica Olic (Wolfsburg), Eduardo (Shakhtar Donetsk), Nikica Jelavic (Hull City), Ante Rebic (Fiorentina).

MEXICO

World Cup 2014 team profile: Mexico

Prospects

Mexico are hurriedly trying to regroup after their worst ever World Cup qualifying campaign in which they used 47 players and four coaches.

The latter of those, Miguel Herrera, has relied heavily on domestic players and implemented an attack-minded 5-3-2 formation.

It's anyone's guess as to whether Mexico can rediscover the form of 2012, when they won 10 of 12 internationals plus Olympic gold.

Key player

The current Player of the Year for North and Central America and the Caribbean, Oribe Peralta , top scored with 10 goals in the qualifying campaign - half of them coming in the play-off against New Zealand.

The 30-year-old has seized his second chance since being recalled after a six-year absence in 2011. An unerring finisher, Peralta's 22 goals for Santos Laguna this season have earned him a move to Mexican giants America.

One to watch

Dynamic box-to-box midfielder Hector Herrera made headlines last summer when his transfer to Porto became the first major deal negotiated by Nicky Blair, the football agent son of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Herrera impressed with his energy and incisive passing as part of Mexico's Olympic gold medal-winning side in 2012. An injury to Juan Carlos Medina means he may be asked to sit deep.

The boss

Overlooked for the 1994 World Cup squad as a player, Miguel Herrera led Mexico to Brazil after being named as the nation's fourth coach in six weeks prior to the qualification play-off against New Zealand.

The squat, straight-talking 46-year-old got the job after winning a first Mexican league title

How they qualified

Mexico looked destined to miss out on the World Cup until the USA scored two stoppage-time goals to beat Panama, thus preventing them from finishing fourth and taking the play-off spot.

Mexico seized their lifeline, beating New Zealand 9-3 on aggregate to qualify.

World Cup record

This will be their 15th appearance - a tally bettered only by Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Italy.

Quarter-finalists on home soil in 1970 and 1986, they have bowed out at the last-16 stage in the last five tournaments.

Fifa ranking: 20

Squad

Goalkeepers: Jose de Jesus Corona (Cruz Azul), Guillermo Ochoa (Ajaccio), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca).

Defenders: Miguel Layun (America), Carlos Salcido (Tigres), Paul Aguilar (America), Andres Guardado (Bayer Leverkusen), Hector Moreno (Espanyol), Francisco Javier Rodriguez (America), Diego Reyes (Porto), Rafael Marquez (Leon).

Midfielders: Miguel Angel Ponce (Toluca), Jose Juan Vazquez (Leon), Luis Montes (Leon), Hector Herrera (Porto), Isaac Brizuela (Toluca), Marco Fabian (Cruz Azul), Carlos Pena (Leon).

Forwards: Oribe Peralta (Santos), Javier Hernandez (Manchester United), Giovani dos Santos (Villarreal), Raul Jimenez (America), Alan Pulido (Tigres).

CAMEROON

World Cup 2014 team profile: Cameroon

Prospects

It is a long time since the Indomitable Lions were the pride of African football.

They lost all three of their games at the 2010 World Cup and have since failed to qualify for the last two Africa Cup of Nations.

Underpinning this mediocrity is ongoing player friction and discontent with the running of Cameroon's football federation, which was briefly suspended by Fifa last July because of government interference.

An all-too-familiar dispute over bonuses has preceded this summer's World Cup, but few observers expect a squad top heavy with defensive-minded players to earn any performance-related pay

Key player

Samuel Eto'o is the captain and record goalscorer but he continues to be a divisive figure. He briefly retired from international duty last September in the wake of a dispute with coach Volker Finke, and and in the latest fallout with team-mates he then claimed there was a "plot" among them  not to pass him the ball in the World Cup play-off against Tunisia.

Eto'o served a seven-match ban in 2011 for leading a players' boycott in a row over unpaid match fees. The Cameroon prime minister once had to persuade him to play in 2012.

Samuel Eto'o

Samuel Eto'o is playing in his fourth World Cup after 1998, 2002 and 2010

One to watch

Central defender Nicolas NKoulou is coveted by many of Europe's big clubs and financially-troubled Marseille are expected to sell him this summer, despite rejecting a €12m bid from Napoli in December.

The 24-year-old started all three of Cameroon's matches at the last World Cup and was voted in the French top flight's team of the year in 2012 and 2013.

The boss

A revolutionary of the German game in the 1990s with unfashionable Freiburg, fluent French speaker Volker Finke was appointed Cameroon's head coach midway through the qualifying campaign.

The 66-year-old former school teacher is a self-confessed student of African football.

How they qualified

They received a World Cup lifeline in June 2013 when Fifa awarded them a 3-0 win over Togo, who had fielded a suspended player. Cameroon had lost the match 2-0 but the ruling put them top of their group. They then beat Tunisia 4-1 in their play-off.

World Cup record

Brazil will be their seventh World Cup - an African record - but Cameroon have only won one match in four editions since reaching the quarter-finals in 1990.

The nadir came in 2010 when they lost all three group matches for the first time.

Fifa ranking: 56

Squad

Goalkeepers: Loic Feudjou (Coton Sport), Charles Itandje (Konyaspor), Sammy Ndjock (Fethiyespor).

Defenders: Benoit Assou-Ekotto (QPR, on loan from Tottenham Hotspur), Henri Bedimo (Lyon), Aurelien Chedjou (Galatasaray), Cedric Djeugou (Coton Sport), Nicolas Nkoulou (Marseille), Dany Nounkeu (Besiktas), Allan Nyom (Granada).

Midfielders: Enoh Eyong (Antalyaspor), Jean Makoun (Rennes), Joel Matip (Schalke), Stephane Mbia (Sevilla, on loan from QPR), Benjamin Moukandjo (Nancy), Landry Nguemo (Bordeaux), Edgar Salli (Lens), Alex Song (Barcelona).

Forwards: Vincent Aboubakar (Lorient), Eric-Maxim Choupo Moting (Mainz), Samuel Eto'o (Chelsea), Fabrice Olinga (Malaga), Achille Webo (Fenerbahce).

Fixtures

12 June 2014

Brazil v Croatia, Arena de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, 21:00 (ITV)

13 June 2014

Mexico v Cameroon, Arena das Dunas, Natal, 17:00 (ITV)

17 June 2014

Brazil v Mexico, Estadio Castelao, Fortaleza, 20:00 (BBC)

18 June 2014

Cameroon v Croatia, Arena Amazonia, Manaus, 23:00 (ITV)

23 June 2014

Cameroon v Brazil, Estadio Nacional, Brasilia, 21:00 (ITV)

23 June 2014

Croatia v Mexico, Arena Pernambuco, Recife, 21:00 (ITV)