FIFA World Cup: Brazil put controversies aside ahead of Croatia clash
Sao Paulo: Brazil are desperate to make a powerful statement of intent in tonight's World Cup opener against Croatia as they seek to relieve the suffocating pressure that has engulfed the team in the build-up to the tournament.
Brazilian players (left to right) Fernandinho, Neymar, Daniel Alves and Henrique vie for the ball during a training session at the squad's Granja Comary training complex in Teresopolis on Tuesday. Pic/AFP
Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has the luxury of being able to field the same team that destroyed world champions Spain 3-0 in the final of last year's Confederations Cup, with Barcelona star Neymar the focal point of a powerful and settled line-up.
The five-time champions are expected to qualify from their group without too much trouble but Barcelona defender Dani Alves admitted there was anxiety ahead of the Sao Paulo opener, as they seek to ease the jitters.
"I have always said that if you don't feel anxiety it is not worth being a professional athlete. The opening game is difficult, important," said Alves.
"The three points count but so does the idea of sending out a message to our rivals. The most important game at the World Cup, for everyone, is the opening game."
Best foot forward
He added: "We will only know on Thursday if everything is OK. We are very confident and we want this moment to come. We want to enjoy the World Cup. We are going to try to give a good image."
Croatia will bank on their key midfielder Luka Modric (left) against Brazil tonight
The only question mark for tournament favourites Brazil for the match at the new Corinthians Arena would appear to be over the out-of-sorts Oscar, with his impressive Chelsea team-mate Willian pushing for a starting berth.
But Scolari, who masterminded Brazil's last World Cup win in 2002, is likely to stick with his tried-and-tested winning formula against 18th-ranked Croatia after the same 11 edged past Serbia 1-0 in a friendly last week, courtesy of a goal from Fred.
Brazilian reserve striker Jo, speaking after training on Tuesday, said the mood in the camp was calm but the nerves would be jangling as kick-off approached.
"At this moment, everyone is calm," said the striker. "When we go to Sao Paulo and the game approaches, there will be excitement, anxiety. But the opening of the World Cup in our country will be different to others."
And squad member Bernard said it was crucial to start the tournament with a win as Brazil chase their first World Cup tournament win on home soil.
"There are no easy games and the game against Serbia was very complicated," said the winger. "They are quite a well-balanced side. I think the game against Croatia will be similar. It's important to be focused on the opening game, we need to start off with three points."
Waiting for clearance
Meanwhile, Croatia are waiting on clearance from governing body FIFA to allow them to replace injured midfielder Ivan Mocinic with Milan Badelj, the national football federation said.
Mocinic, 21, is the fourth player from the Croat squad to be forced to drop out because of injury but normally FIFA rules allow squads to replace injured players up to the eve of the kick-off of the tournament.
Mocinic suffered a recurrence of an ankle injury and is expected to be sidelined for up to three weeks. "We have to take into account the interest of the squad but also the interest of both Mocinic and his club," said coach Niko Kovac.
The number of games Brazil have won in their 20 World Cup appearances