World Cup 2014: Opening Ceremony and Brazil v Croatia – LIVE - Live coverage - The Independent

World Cup 2014: Opening Ceremony and Brazil v Croatia – LIVE

Brazil v Croatia 
Welcome to the Independent's live coverage of the Fifa World Cup in Brazil with Samuel Stevens and Marc Williams as the hosts prepare to take on Croatia at São Paulo's Arena Corinthians at 9pm British time...

  • BRAZIL 3 CROATIA 1: Full time

    • Oscar slots home Brazil's third in style
    • Neymar gets his second from the penalty spot after foul on Fred
    • Neymar's scuffed effort brings Brazil level
    • Brazil go behind early on after Marcelo own goal
    • Hosts Brazil set to start the World Cup against Croatia at 9pm
    • Neymar, Hulk and Oscar start behind Fred for Brazil 
    • Hull City's Nikica Jelavic and Southampton's Dejan Lovren start for Croatia
    • Jennifer Lopez and Pitbull star in colourful Opening ceremony 
    6/12/2014 8:49:19 AM

  • The sun sets on the Copacabana Beach last night 

    Welcome to the Independent’s live coverage of the 2014 Fifa World Cup in São Paulo as Brazil prepare to take on Croatia at the Arena Corinthians at 9pm.

    With a young, talented but decidedly inexperienced squad to pick from, Luiz Felipe Scolari has an expectant nation ready to take aim should Brazil fail to secure a record sixth World Cup triumph.

    After lifting the Confederations Cup on home turf last summer, the mood in Brazil is hanging on a precipice. If they concede the first goal, they could undoubtedly crumble. Score first, however, and the samba show of old may just roll into town.

    Should Croatia manage to overcome their illustrious hosts this evening, in front of an estimated 55,000 home supporters, today’s date will surely be etched into World Cup history.

    6/12/2014 9:41:42 AM

  • The state of the pitch in Manaus 

    Pitch woes threaten to scupper English hopes

    England are almost ready to tackle 2006 World Cup winners Italy, the side who famously knocked them out of Euro 2012, in front of an estimated television audience of 600 million people on Saturday night.

    Good job then, being at the world's largest sporting event, that the pitch will be in decent nick then, right?

    Unfortunately not. Yesterday, the head groundsman for the turf provider confirmed: "Frankly, Manaus is in bad shape."

    At least this year’s customary excuse is already sorted. Without a dentist chair or metatarsal in sight, the lack of get-out clauses was proving to be slightly unnerving.

    6/12/2014 9:56:13 AM
  • Sepp up to his old tricks again

    Sepp Blatter, the most popular Fifa president in the governing body's glorious history, has announced that he plans to stand for a fifth term in office.

    Earlier this week, Mr Blatter had suggested that racism was behind the allegations of corruption made by the British press and on Tuesday the FA chairman, Greg Dyke, described his remarks as “unacceptable”.

    The Sunday Times had revealed an alleged chain of payments and meetings between FIFA officials and members of Qatar’s 2022 bid committee.
    6/12/2014 10:02:02 AM
  • Here's our chief football correspondent, Sam Wallace, on Danny Welbeck's exclusion from England training yesterday afternoon.

    6/12/2014 10:05:21 AM
  • 'Big Phil' ahead of today's opener 

    Scolari in bullish mood ahead of tonight’s clash with Croatia

    The Brazil head coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, has announced that the 2014 World Cup belongs to Brazil and that it is essential the samba national start with a win tonight.

    "To all Brazilians, I want to tell you the time has arrived," the 65-year-old said.

    This is our World Cup. There are seven steps. We have to go up those seven steps but to start we have to think of the first step. We can't jump the seven steps.

    "The first step is against Croatia. After that we have six steps that we want to go up if we want to win the World Cup."

    Many pundits' favourites to be crowned world champions, this Brazil team are perhaps the most under pressure side in sporting history.
    6/12/2014 10:27:45 AM
  • World Cup stat: Most penalty victories – Germany (four out of four)

    Those pesky Germans do it again in 1990 

    In the least startling piece of trivia known to man, the Germans are statistically the World Cup’s most prolific penalty takers. 

    Winning all four of their penalty shoot-outs, they are the most formidable spot-kicking side in the competition’s history.

    Perhaps even more unsurprisingly, the Three Lions (along with Group D rivals Italy) are rooted at the opposite end of the spectrum…

    The God's won't help you now, Sven 

    Jinking Archie Gemmill, Ronaldo's revenge, Brazil's joy - our writers select their favourite World Cup memories. 
    6/12/2014 10:37:56 AM
  • World Cup fever hits the roof (or the stratosphere)

    Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, joked yesterday that one day the World Cup may become an interstellar affair. 

    This picture, taken from NASA's International Space Station, suggests the demand is there at least...

    6/12/2014 10:44:50 AM
  • Manager profile: Niko Kovač, Croatia

    Niko Kovač 

    As his country’s captain under Slaven Bilić, Niko Kovač was defined by his astute tactical knowledge and ability to relate to their supporters.

    With leadership qualities which some still accredit to inspiring Croatia’s regular status as perennial dark horses, he was a rare breed in the modern game.

    Perhaps that’s why, when Igor Stimac was shown the door last autumn, the Croatian FA ignored his lack of experience and made the appointment nonetheless.

    Even losing to Scotland twice during the qualifying rounds, Croat supporters are just pleased to have a new man at the helm. They would have taken anybody.

    For a rookie who was catapulted into the proverbial deep end, he has stabilised a sinking ship with relative ease. The playmaker axis of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitić and Mario Mandžukić will help this transition further.
    6/12/2014 10:48:24 AM
  • Benitez fancies England's chances against Italy

    Independent columnist and Napoli head coach Rafa Benitez 

    Former Liverpool manager and Independent columnist Rafa Benitez has warned England to take Andrea Pirlo's threat seriously - but said that they can stop the 35-year-old Italian.

    The midfield maestro - who used his autobiography I Think Therefore I Play to announce his retirement from international football after the World Cup - was one of the penalty takers who knocked Roy Hodgson's men out of Euro 2012.

    The Napoli head coach, however, has given English supporters a few words of comfort...

    Even if somebody like Danny Welbeck is sent on to the pitch with the job of stopping Pirlo – chasing and chasing, closing him down – the Italian will still have the ability to find space and put in the pass that can change everything.

    6/12/2014 11:02:29 AM
  • Manager profile: Luiz Felipe Scolari, Brazil

    The man with the weight of the world on his shoulders 

    He may not look it, but the Brazil manager is in high spirits.

    After successfully earning legendary status in 2002 as his Brazil side swept all opposition aside to claim a record fifth World Cup title, eyebrows collectively rose around the world when Luiz Felipe Scolari was reinstated as manager ten years later.

    After an ill-fated reign at Stamford Bridge with Chelsea, the 65-year-old’s career appeared to be nearing its final act.

    As before in 2002, though, he has taken charge of a side in decline and realigned their trajectory to one more akin to the Brazil of old.

    While undoubtedly as important as any one of the eleven players on the pitch, Scolari’s previous record won’t save him should Brazil fail to lift the trophy for a sixth time.

    Perhaps overly reliant on Barcelona starlet Neymar, last summer’s Confederations Cup victory offered hope that the samba nation have regained their status as major players on the world stage. 

    Scolari is banking on it.
    6/12/2014 11:11:46 AM
  • Twittersphere update: Playstation, power naps and Rik Mayall tributes

    After the almost dictatorial reign of Fabio Capello in 2010, the England squad appear to be revelling in the new-found freedom under Roy Hodgson. 

    Here's what the lads have been getting up to over the last few days...

    Liverpool right-back, Glen Johnson, is excited for tonight's kick-off.

    His Kop teammate Daniel Sturridge, on the other hand, appears to have hosted quite the Fifa tournament at the squad hotel.

    The Liverpool trend continues with Reheem Sterling, heavily tipped to have an impressive World Cup, taking a well deserved rest.

    Ben Foster joined the chorus of appreciation for Blackadder and Young Ones star Rik Mayall.

    Wayne Rooney, facing calls to be dropped from the starting line-up, has been getting his daily dose of Kevin Spacey.

    And finally, Fraser Forster tweeted his charming photo of the EFF charity's latest project.

    6/12/2014 11:29:42 AM
  • World Cup stat: Most red cards - Zinedine Zidane – Two

    So close and yet so far... 

    Is this the most iconic football picture of the modern era?

    With France and Italy equally poised at a goal apiece in the first period of extra-time in the 2006 World Cup final, the Real Madrid legend inadvertently placed his forehead into the chest of Azzurri defender Marco Materazzi.

    The rest, of course, is history as the Italians triumphed on penalties with Zidane still in the shower when his dejected teammates trudged back into the changing room.

    His first dismissal, during a routine 4-0 victory over Saudi Arabia in 1998, was considerably less costly.

    While Cameroon’s Rigobert Song’s shares his record of two red cards, that ill-fated evening in Berlin will haunt the Frenchman for years to come.

    Jinking Archie Gemmill, Ronaldo's revenge, Brazil's joy - our writers select their favourite World Cup memories.
    6/12/2014 11:35:27 AM
  • Gotta catch 'em all!

    And, with this picture, Japan have just became the entire world's 'second team'. 

    It may be fake, but the buzz ahead of tonight's kick-off continues to build.

    The Japanese are considered rank outsiders but - alongside the Ivory Coast, Greece and Columbia in Group C - could progress to the knock-out stages.

    6/12/2014 11:41:19 AM
  • Del Bosque: Spain can reign again 

    The World Cup and European Championship holders 

    One thousand, four hundred and thirty-two days ago, Howard Webb called time on a frankly ruthless World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands.

    Andres Iniesta and friends tika-takaed their way to glory and, two years later, even added another European Championships to their collection. 

    Robin Scott-Elliot has analysed their chances this year.

    If they win the World Cup once more, you suspect that they will rightfully be regarded as the greatest international team to have ever graced a football field.

    We are very optimistic about our chances of winning again

    The final piece of the jigsaw, a striker in the form of Atlético Madrid forward Diego Costa, has finally be filled. 

    Don’t be surprised if Vicente del Bosque’s men reign once more.

    6/12/2014 11:51:43 AM
  • Roy Hodgson's pockets are lighter than Fabio Capello's

     Roy Hodgson speaks to the media in Brazil

    While his pay cheque may be modest by the FA's outrageous standards, Roy Hodgson is hardly strapped for cash.

    The second-highest earner at this summer's World Cup, the former Inter Milan and Liverpool manager earns an estimated £3.5m a year.

    Behind his predecessor Capello, who earns roughly £7m every twelve months with Russia, the England manager is handsomely compensated nonetheless.

    Niko Kovač, the Croatia manager, is the lowest paid boss but still earns nineteen times that of an average Croat.
    6/12/2014 12:03:31 PM
  • Tonight's venue: Arena Corinthians, São Paulo, capacity: 65,807

    The world's media prepare for the greatest show on earth... 

    Based in the multicultural city of São Paulo, the Arena Corinthians is perhaps a surprise choice to host the opening game of this summer's World Cup.

    Ignoring the lure of the 96,000 capacity Estádio Maracanã, organisers will be hoping that the two temporary stands on either side of the ground hold firm despite never passing a single safety test.

    With a population of 11.3 million people, the entire city will be huddled around their television screens tonight.
    6/12/2014 12:24:09 PM
  • With the weight of an entire nation on his shoulders, how will Brazilian superstar Neymar fare?

    Neymar lifts the Confederations Cup last summer 

    While European supporters are still a touch skeptical, South Americans are in no doubt about the abilities of Barcelona star Neymar.

    He is Brazil's great hope, the team’s defining player. If he doesn't turn up, it's unlikely that Luiz Felipe Scolari's men will be lifting another piece of silverware.

    In the strangely surreal situation of having a more daunting defence than attack, the 65-year-old head coach is well aware of Neymar's importance to the team.

    He doesn't specialise in marking but sometimes he does try, in order to give his contribution to the whole team.

    6/12/2014 12:33:02 PM
  • Speaking to a packed press centre in Brazil yesterday, Wayne Rooney had a few things to get off his chest...

    6/12/2014 12:35:36 PM
  • Four years ago today: England 1-1 USA - Look away now, Rob Green...

    Reality doesn't go away because you refuse to believe in it, Robert

    Do you remember the mood before the 2010 World Cup in South Africa? It's quite inconceivable to imagine that English fans had high hopes under Fabio Capello.

    After romping their way through an easy qualification group, the Italian hardman was the coach who would finally end the decades of hurt.

    That optimism lasted all of about forty minutes, however, after Steve Gerrard's tidy opener against the USA.

    Rob Green, now at Queens Park Rangers, ultimately became the story of the day. That's just about the kindest way of putting it.

    6/12/2014 12:50:45 PM
  • Luis Suarez may be rested against England - but only IF Uruguay win their opening match

    The Liverpool superstar in training on Tuesday morning 

    Should Uruguay defeat Costa Rica on Saturday evening, a tie they'll almost certainly play without Luis Suarez, then head coach Oscar Tabarez may consider resting his Liverpool star for the England game also.

    The news will come as music to England supporters' ears as expectations continue to simmer at an all time low.

    According to Ian Herbert, a defeat or draw against their South American rivals would put immediate pressure on the Uruguayans and make them more likely to gamble on Suarez.

    We have no set deadlines. I don’t know if we’ll have him for the first match, for the second, for the third. If it were up to me, Suárez would play tomorrow.

    6/12/2014 1:01:20 PM
  • World Cup stat: All time highest goalscorer - 15 goals, Ronaldo, Brazil

    The original and the best, Ronaldo 

    He may have become a comedy figure for caricaturists in recent years, but older members of the footballing family still remember a time when Ronaldo would tear defences apart only to make them endure the same experience all over again just moments later.

    The competition's all-time top goal scorer, with a stunning fifteen strikes next to his name, Ronaldo led his country to the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan.

    Now a member of the committee which is in charge of organising this year’s tournament, the 37-year-old also scored sixty-two goals in 98 appearances for the samba nation.

    With Miroslav Klose, the imperious German forward, edging ever-closer to his record, the Brazilian legend will be secretly hoping that Joachim Löw’s men have a quiet summer.

    Jinking Archie Gemmill, Ronaldo's revenge, Brazil's joy - our writers select their favourite World Cup memories.
    6/12/2014 1:09:36 PM
  • Who will win the World Cup? The bookies give their verdict...

    Got, got, need, got... 

    We've gone through the website's belonging to the country's leading bookmakers and these are the favourites for this year's World Cup.

    Brazil, unsurprisingly, lead a pack which includes South American rivals Argentina and holders Spain. Germany, always a thorn in the side, are the fourth favourites while Belgium appear to have transgressed from dark horses into genuine contenders.

    England just about make it into the top ten.

    1. Brazil
    2. Argentina
    3. Spain
    4. Germany
    5. Belgium
    6. Portugal
    7. France
    8. Italy
    9. England
    10. Holland
    6/12/2014 1:18:31 PM
  • Best World Cup memory: Croatia - Third place finish in 1998

    One for the scrapbook 

    Even today Niko Kovač, the Croatia head coach, has to bat away questions from the media about the country’s success in 1998.

    Finishing in third place, courtesy of a fine 2-1 victory over the Netherlands in the play-off, the Croats secured their highest ever finish against all the odds.

    After beating Jamaica and Japan in the group stages – and only narrowly falling to a 1-0 defeat against Argentina – Miroslav Blažević’s men went on to knock both Romania and Germany out in the later rounds.

    Beating the Germans 3-0 at the Stade de Gerland in Lyon, it’s no wonder Croatian journalists refuse to forget the generation of ’98.

    An unlikely brace from Frenchman Lilian Thuram in the semi-finals, however, ultimately sealed their fate.

    The hosts - powered by the likes of Patrick Vieira, Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry in their prime – eventually lifted the trophy at the Stade de France.

    6/12/2014 1:23:05 PM
  • 6/12/2014 1:26:07 PM
  • Best World Cup memory: Brazil - Winners in 1970

    Brazil line-up against Italy in the 1970 World Cup final

    When, like Brazil, you have lifted the World Cup trophy five times, it could perhaps be a touch tricky to pick a favourite. 

    Despite their unrivalled success, those spoilt Brazilians are still a popular bunch. The first World Cup to be broadcast in colour, it is poetic that they are accredited with lighting up the beautiful game.

    Their sumptuous romp to the 1970 title, defined by a new age of attacking football, is still generally considered to be the best victory by any side in the sport's history.

    Along the way, the enigmatic Brazilians would finish top of a group which also featured Czechoslovakia, Romania and reigning world champions England. It’s not often you can type that about the Three Lions.

    Whether it was Pele’s irresistible trickery, Jairzinho’s fearsome goal-scoring abilities or Carlos Alberto’s lighting pace, Brazil became the first side to win the World Cup with such an effervescent swagger. 

    England may have invented football, but this was the year that Brazil made it beautiful.

    Jinking Archie Gemmill, Ronaldo's revenge, Brazil's joy - our writers select their favourite World Cup memories.
    6/12/2014 1:50:29 PM
  • Michel Platini on Sepp Blatter: 'I am supporting him no longer'

    It's all a little frosty... 

    As the picture above would suggest, Sepp Blatter's relationship with Michel Platini has hit the rocks.

    First came the missed phone calls and now Platani has announced: "It's finished."

    Set against the backdrop of raging controversy surrounding the decision to award Qatar with the 2022 World Cup, this represents a major blow for the 78-year-old.

    On the opening day of the 2014 World Cup, Fifa president Blatter has come in for possibly his most damning indictment yet with his Uefa counterpart saying he will no longer support him.

    I am supporting him no longer, it’s finished. I have known him for a long time, I like him, but I’m not favourable to him having another term

    “I supported him in 1998, but I do not support in 2014," he continued. "And in the future, I shall not support Blatter. I told him that. I think Fifa needs a breath of fresh air."
    6/12/2014 2:07:34 PM
  • World Cup players to watch - Jackson Martinez, Columbia

    It's time for Falcao's wingman to step up to the plate 

    While nobody in Columbia is giving up on Monaco's Radamel Falcao just yet, it's time for his strike partner Jackson Martinez to emerge from the big man's shadow.

    Having effectively filled his shoes at Porto, the 27-year-old's physical prowess is matched by his tactical invention.

    Hitting the back of the net 44 times in 56 domestic appearances for the Portuguese giants, Martinez arrives in Brazil at the top of his game.

    He only started four times, however, during Columbia's qualification to the tournament and failed to score. 

    Evidently he will need to win over his head coach, Jose Pekerman, before he can even start to think about making the starting eleven.

    Supporters, both Columbians and neutrals alike, are more certain about what his role should be.
    6/12/2014 2:24:08 PM
  • Jack Pitt-Brooke has his thoughts on tonight's opening clash right here...

    6/12/2014 2:29:16 PM
  • Lionel Messi duped by Ronaldinho lookalike on eve of World Cup

    Just laugh and walk away, Leo. Play it cool...

    Lionel Messi, who once played alongside Ronaldinho for Barcelona, was the butt of the joke last night when a lookalike duped him in front of his teammates.

    For a moment the Argentina forward, who is being backed to make a major impact on this summer's tournament, believed the Brazil legend had come to say hello.

    Even managing to shake the 26-year-old's hand, the joker was shiftly moved on.
    6/12/2014 2:40:45 PM
  • Hodgson charms Italy coach ahead of Saturday's Group D clash

    The England manager speaks to the press yesterday

    Roy Hodgson believes that he has a kindred spirit in the form of Italy manager Cesare Prandelli.

    After the Italians ruthlessly dispatched of England at Euro 2012, the former Fulham manager came under increased scrutiny after a decidedly  timid display.

    Things will be different, this time around, however, with Hodgson insisting that England have learnt their lesson.

    ''Before I even knew him, when Giacinto Fachetti (the former Inter and Italy defender) was still alive, he told me he thought Prandelli was a good coach," Hodgson said.

    He would have based that on following his career. That's always stuck in my mind, that someone whom I respected as much as Fachetti picked him out among the Italian coaches as 'this is a good Italian coach'

    6/12/2014 2:56:35 PM
  • Breaking news: Cesc Fabregas signs for Chelsea

    Chelsea have today announced the signing of Barcelona and Spain midfielder Cesc Fabregas for a estimated £26.6m transfer fee - after Arsenal passed on the option to buy him back.

    The 27-year-old has joined on a five-year contract and will wear the no. 4 shirt. He is thought to have been especially keen to seal the deal before Spain's opening World Cup clash against the Netherlands tomorrow.

    He said: "Firstly I would like to thank everyone at FC Barcelona where I enjoyed three wonderful years.
    It was my childhood club and I will always be proud and honoured that I had a chance to play for such a great team."

    I do feel that I have unfinished business in the Premier League and now is the right time to return.

    "I considered all the other offers very carefully," he continued. "I firmly believe that Chelsea is the best choice. They match my footballing ambitions with their hunger and desire to win trophies. They have an amazing squad of players and an incredible manager.

    "I am fully committed to this team and I can't wait to start playing.
    6/12/2014 3:06:41 PM
  • World Cup players to watch: Eden Hazard, Belgium

    The Roadrunner goes forth

    After a sensational campaign in the blue of Chelsea, expectations of Eden Hazard have been inflated even further ahead of the World Cup in Brazil.

    The former Lille man has come an awful long way in recent years. It's remarkable to think that it took him 23 appearances to finally hit the back of the net for his country.

    While his role at Stamford Bridge is to both create chances and score from wide positions, the Belgian national team have rested their entire hopes upon his shoulders.

    More than a player, the 23-year-old is a symbol of their new-found talent. No wonder Paris Saint Germain are being linked with a stunning £45m bid for the starlet after the tournament.

    If Hazard starts scoring in Brazil, it's worth assuming that Belgium are going to be in for one hell of a summer.
    6/12/2014 3:24:48 PM
  • Reports of unrest across Brazil

    It was always likely to happen and it does indeed seem to be the case that the World Cup will start under the cloud of political protests across the country.

    While some British television stations are reporting the use of tear gas and pepper spray, these stories are unconfirmed.

    It is not thought that the safety of visiting supporters is an issue.
    6/12/2014 3:33:31 PM
  • World Cup players to watch: Paul Pogba, France

    The man with 'more technical ability than Patrick Vieira'

    Just twenty-one years old and with the world at his feat, Juventus star Paul Pogba has a point to prove.

    After being sold by Manchester United in 2012, the Frenchman was desperate to prove Sir Alex Ferguson wrong. Going into the World Cup as perhaps one of the most exciting talents in world football, it's safe to say that he's done exactly that.

    Replacing Juve hero Claudio Marchisio in the heart of their midfield, the Old Lady couldn't believe their luck after signing Pogba for a minimal fee.

    Now an indispensable member of Les Bleus' first team, his unique blend of power and precision have catapulted him to the very top of European wish-lists.

    Even linked with a move back to Old Trafford, to Louis van Gaal's Red Devils, his career is going anywhere but backwards.
    6/12/2014 3:49:33 PM
  • Referee announced for England v Italy
    Dutch ref Kuipers

    Fifa have announced the referee who will officiate England's opening game of the World Cup against Italy.

    Bjorn Kuipers, who took charge of the Champions League final between Atlético and Real Madrid last month, will be the man in the middle on Saturday night.

    Now, let me check his previous record to find a possible excuse when England lose...
    6/12/2014 3:58:44 PM
  • World Cup players to watch: Mateo Kovacic, Croatia

    Inter's newest wide man

    While not necessarily a household name round these parts, Inter Milan's midfield technician Mateo Kovacic could light up this year's World Cup.

    Provided Croatia stay in the tournament long enough for him to make an impact, it's worth keeping one eye on Kovacic's progress this summer.

    Leaving Dinamo Zagreb for £12m in January 2013, Inter has proven to be the perfect place for the 20-year-old ace to work on his talents.

    It hadn't started so rosily, however, as two different managers used him sparingly while the back of the net has proven to be somewhat elusive.

    The fact that the Italians have given him the prestigious no. 10 shirt, which used to belong to Wesley Sneijder, gives you an inkling into their thinking.
    Kovacic is one for the future.
    6/12/2014 4:11:43 PM
  • Sam Wallace has arrived at the Arena Amazônia - where England will take on Italy on Saturday night - and has posted these pictures on Twitter. Car parks are the least of Brazil's problems today it would seem...

    6/12/2014 4:16:56 PM
  • England handed Welbeck boost as Manchester United star trains

    Welbeck in action against Peru

    While many England fans continue to dizzy themselves over the prospect of Ross Barkley starting for England this weekend, a far more likely option is Danny Welbeck.

    Popular with Roy Hodgson, the Manchester United forward has given the England coaching team a huge boost by shrugging off his hamstring concerns.

    Welbeck has been seen as a vital part of the England game plan against the Italians - based primarily on stifling Andrea Pirlo - which has been under preparation for weeks.

    Stop Pirlo and you halt the Italian charge.
    6/12/2014 4:26:09 PM
  • 6/12/2014 4:29:44 PM
  • Tomorrow's Group A clash: Mexico v Cameroon

    The Mexicans are coming

    While much of today's attention is rightfully on Brazil's opening tie against Croatia, tomorrow sees Mexico take on Cameroon at Natal's Arena das Dunas.

    Famous for its beautiful sand dunes, Natal offers yet another stunning backdrop for the world's greatest sporting event.

    Mexico arrive in Brazil with a certain degree of trepidation. Back in October, defeat to Costa Rica meant that they had to rely on two injury-time goals from the United States against Panama to be sure of their place at the World Cup.

    Scraping through, courtesy of their worst ever finish in the CONCACAF group, Miguel Herrera is Mexico's fourth manager in six months. With Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez in their squad, however, they have the firepower to hurt teams.

    Cameroon, on the other hand, have an ever-aging Samuel Eto'o to lead the line. The 33-year-old has been kept fresh, though, by a decent campaign at Chelsea.

    Like the Mexicans, Volker Finke's men can count themselves lucky to be in the finals.

    While the perception may be that Eto'o provides Cameroon with their only springboard, the truth is quite different. With a fine goalkeeper in the form of Charles Itandje and Nicolas N'Koulou proving to be an intimidating figure at the back, defence is the biggest feather in their cap.

    Difficult to call, this one.
    6/12/2014 4:51:45 PM

    6/12/2014 5:05:01 PM
  • Hello everyone, Marc Williams here! Many thanks to my colleague Sam for taking us all through the last few hours, get yourself a cuppa!

    Welcome along as we continue our countdown to on this, the biggest day on planet football.

    We’re now just under three hours from kick-off in the opening game between Brazil and Croatia and before that we have all the thrills (and hopefully not spills) of the opening ceremony.

    The match gets going at 9pm sharp our time, so get yourselves a drink, some Brazilian themed food perhaps and enjoy the beginning of four weeks of the festival of football that is the World Cup.

    Not a bad way to kick things off either, Neymar, Hulk and Oscar against Modric, Rakitic and (probably) Eduardo… should be a cracker!

    6/12/2014 5:12:16 PM
  • So, up first is the opening ceremony. A bit of a formality? Maybe. But, should be good fun none the less.

    Two words I think will define the next hour or so, samba and Pele. If we’re lucky we might even get Pele sambaing, one can dream.

    It will give us a good insight to what we can expect in two years’ time for the Olympics as well, but for now, it’s all about the footy!

    The ceremony gets going at 7.15pm, so plenty coming your way before then. Get your reading glasses out, you’re going to need them, it’s all good stuff though, I promise. 

    6/12/2014 5:16:19 PM
  • Let's get stuck right in then. Brazil take on Croatia in the opening game but you, of course, know that already. I'm sure you've all been counting down the clock just waiting for 9pm!

    Just over two and half hours to go, so how about a little preview?

    Our man Ian Herbert got his hands on a camera and recorded a little snippet for your enjoyment.

    The twentieth Fifa World Cup is about to begin with Brazil - the host and tournament favourite - taken on Croatia as they hope to clinch their sixth title. 
    6/12/2014 5:22:16 PM

  • Beautiful blue skies in Sao Paulo and the stadium is looking great ahead of the opening ceremony.
    6/12/2014 5:24:24 PM
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