Group A: Brazil will be looking for a Silva lining!
Head coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. Brazil needed a man big enough for the job of leading them in their home World Cup. So who better than ‘Big Phil’? Scolari was in charge when they were last champions in 2002, when he prepared the players by giving each of them a copy of ‘The Art of War’ by Sun Tzu, a Chinese strategist from the 6th century BC.
How they qualified Automatically as hosts.
Most valuable player Thiago Silva. Brazil’s history has been decorated with some of the finest attacking talents to ever grace the game. But in Thiago Silva, they arguably have the best defender in world football.
His style has been compared to Franco Baresi and Bobby Moore, but will he emulate the latter by lifting the World Cup on home soil?
Prospects Have waited 64 years to put right the events of 1950, when they were beaten by Uruguay in the Final at the Maracana. They are the favourites and, on home soil, will justify that tag.
Head coach Niko Kovac. Was parachuted in for the play-offs after Igor Stimac was sacked. The former national team captain had been in charge of the Under-21s in his first managerial role. He played in two World Cups, along with younger brother Robert.
How they qualified Finished runners-up to Belgium in Europe’s Group A, yet lost twice to Scotland in the process. Goals were a problem as they never managed more than two in a game.
Most valuable player Luka Modric. Has emerged this season as a midfielder of the very highest class. He was a key figure in Real Madrid winning the Champions League and the Copa Del Rey to justify leaving Tottenham two years ago.
He is the heartbeat of the Croatian team and his partnership with Sevilla’s all-action Ivan Rakitic will be crucial.
Prospects The Croatians again have a team of talented ball players. Facing Brazil in the opening game is not ideal and will have them playing catch up in order to get out of the group. They will come up just short.
Head coach Miguel Herrera. Parachuted into the job for the do-or-die play-off games and retained for the Finals. Diplomacy is not his strong point and he called Bosnia ‘dirty pigs’ after a team-sheet mix-up in their friendly in Chicago last Tuesday.
How they qualified Struggled in finishing fourth in the CONCACAF group and if not for USA scoring two injury-time goals away to Panama in the last game, they would not even be in Brazil. Given a second chance in a play-off against New Zealand, they hammered the All Whites 9-3 on aggregate.
Most valuable player Oribe Peralta. While Manchester United man Javier Hernandez has been unable to buy a goal for his country stretching back nearly a year, Peralta has stepped up with a record of one in every two games.
The Club America striker scored both goals against Brazil when Mexico won the gold medal at London 2012.
Prospects Easy! Mexico will surely reach the last 16, just as they have in the past five World Cups. The final group game against Croatia on June 23 will decide second place.
Head coach Volker Finke. The veteran German took charge in May 2013. Is credited with being one of the forebears of the style of play involving high pressing, which he developed during 16 years in charge of Freiburg.
How they qualified Beat Libya in the last game to top their group, while they were also awarded three points after Togo fielded an ineligible player in a match the Lions lost. Their 4-1 win over Tunisia in the play-off was more straightforward.
Most valuable player Stephane Mbia. Samuel Eto’o is the highest profile but at 33, and in his fourth World Cup, his days as one of football’s most predatory strikers are behind him.
QPR fans would probably laugh, given the wretched time he had at Loftus Road, but Mbia has had a fine season on loan at Sevilla, scoring some crucial goals.
Prospects Have won just one of their 12 World Cup games since the exploits of Roger Milla and Co. at Italia 90. They will do well to end that.
Report by John Barrett and Adam Lanigan