Byline: Kevin Buckles Jr, Sports Editor
SAO PAULO — Sixty years and five FIFA World Cup titles later, Brazil is back hosting the most prestigious, global football competition in the world.
Brazil enters the competition attempting to win the cup for, a record, sixth time, which would include a third title in the last twenty years.
The host nation, led by 22-year old superstar and Barcelona forward Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, will kick off the tournament on Thursday at 1 p.m. PST in the New Corinthians Arena against Group A opponent Croatia.
With much of the attention being placed on Neymar to lead Brazil back to the pinnacle of international soccer, the São Paulo native seems up for the challenge.
“I am anxious of course but also I’m extremely happy being where I am today because many people would like to be here,” Neymar told FIFA a day before the opening match.”I really hope I can help my team in the best possible way to fulfill the dream of the players, and Brazilians, which is to win the World Cup.”
Brazilian National Team Head Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari is also feeling particularly confident heading into the tourney, already comparing the likes of his 2014 team to his 2002 World Cup winning team saying that they share the same commitment to hard work.
“To all Brazilians I want to tell you the time has arrived. This is our World Cup,” said Scolari. “The first step is Croatia.”
Though the Croatians failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup and have generated little success in their World Cup history, save for a third place finish in 1998, they claim they are in no position to back down from the Brazilians.
“We are not going to park the bus tomorrow,” said Croatia Head Coach Niko Kovac. “We are going to attack. We are going to seek our chances because Brazil are so strong that if you want success against them you have to score.”
Croatia Captain Darijo Srna echoed his coach’s sentiments, but provided some caution discussing Brazil, heralding them as the best team in the world.
“I can’t promise to beat Brazil but it is a promise that we will give our all, the last atom of strength… we are playing the best footballers on the planet,” said Srna. “We, little Croatia, will try to create a miracle.”
This game will be the second consecutive time Croatia has opened a World Cup facing Brazil, losing the first time in 2006, 1-0, when the two faced off in Berlin, Germany.
Prediction: Neymar and company will find away in front of their home fans, to start the World Cup with a 2-1 victory over Croatia.