By Rob McDonald

BRAZIL

What We Know:
We don’t know what they are; really, they’ve not played in a proper competition since 2011 (not having the Confederations Cup). Actually, scratch that: they’re a team whose main centre forward is either Fred or Jo. They’re also a team that has Willian. So it all evens out. Oh, Willian. Oh, what could have been.

What They Could Be:
Sensational. This is based on three things happening, however:

1) Neymar is actually good and not just good in adverts and video games;
2) Hulk kicks it dead hard and it goes in the net at least 5 times and
3) The sensible lads – Thiago Silva, Dante/David Luiz, Fernandinho, Willian, Oscar and Paulinho – forming a cohesive unit.

I’m not sure any of those are actually possible.

What They’ll Probably Be:
Sensational in fits and starts but ultimately doomed. Neymar will do something magic at some point that’ll show his potential but will essentially not be enough to win the tournament by himself. They look like a team that could be stopped by a stoic, well-organised, gang. That being said, you could argue that every team in the competition has its weaknesses and Brazil could go far with some luck and momentum. It’s not like teams haven’t won the thing with a lame duck forward before, aye Stephane Guivarc’h?

The Player To Talk About With Phil Blundell:
Bernard. Not just a brilliant name, he’s also a hotly tipped attacking midfield currently playing in Ukraine (where else) and will probably be the player you want your team to sign in 12 months.

CROATIA

What We Know:
Niko Kovac came in to save the day and lead Croatia to qualification with a two-legged victory over Iceland after Igor Stimac made everyone hate him. Yet Kovac remains something of an unknown quantity having only managed the Croatian U-21’s before (even then only for 5 games). As far as Croatians care, however, he isn’t Stimac so he’s good. They also have one of the loveliest triumvirates of midfielders you’ll ever see: Luka Modric; Mateo Kovacic and Ivan Rakitic. Even their names are sexy.

What They Could Be:
As above: sexy. They could be suave and debonair but with an evil edge to them, in Mario Mandzukic, they could be like a footballing Patrick Bateman.

What They’ll Probably Be:
It’s hard to imagine Croatia not qualifying, unless Kovac is a total misfire, but with a likely meeting with Holland or Spain in the knockouts it’s even harder to imagine them progressing further than that.

The Player To Talk About With Phil Blundell:
Is Kovacic too last year? Probably, but who cares. He’s still the heir to Boban in Milan and has an adorable face.

MEXICO

What We Know:
They love to sack a manager. They went through 4 in 6 weeks. Brilliant.

What They Could Be:
Reliant on 30-year-old Oribe Peralta to score the goals and using three centre backs while having a smattering of talented players you’ve heard of but don’t properly rate, it isn’t a vintage Mexico team. They should challenge Croatia for second spot but probably won’t manage it. That being said, Croatia could stutter and they do have players who can flourish in games like Gio Dos Santos and Hector Herrera.

What They’ll Probably Be:
Well, what I said above but without the positive bits.

The Player To Talk About With Phil Blundell:
Oribe Peralta. Just because then you can talk about Sixto Peralta, the failed Argentinian. Bless him.

CAMEROON

What We Know:
Charles Itandje is a prick. Cameroon qualified – partly – because Togo don’t know the rules. An insipid qualification campaign, an ageing Samuel Eto’o and a tough group don’t seem to add up to much.

What They Could Be:
Solid and sensible with a good defence and about two attacking outlets. Of those attacking outlets, ignoring Eto’o, Cameroon will look to the speedy Vincent Aboubakar and Eric Choupo-Moting to break quickly and attack directly. The former, who is coming off the back of a solid campaign in France, will particularly need to have a good tournament for Cameroon to do anything remotely useful while Eto’o will have to contribute with his experience and help make up for the utter lack of creative midfielders in the squad.

What They’ll Probably Be:
Last with no points and let’s say two goals. They won’t be whipping boys with Aurelien Chedjou and Nicolas Nkoulou in defence and a whole bunch of decent defensive midfielders but they won’t have enough to beat the better teams in the group.

The Player To Talk About With Phil Blundell:
The aforementioned Aboubakar, who did a brilliant dive recently and knocked out Tiago Silva in Lorient’s game against PSG this season. He also scored some goals, finally capitalising on his potential.

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