World Cup 2014 Preview: Brazil – Croatia

SAO PAULO — When Neymar hit the ground during training on Tuesday, it appeared as though the nightmare buildup to Brazil’s first home World Cup in 64 years had carried over onto the field as well. But the news that the Barcelona ace suffered no lasting injury to his left ankle after his awakward fall will have come as a massive relief to coach Luiz Felipe Scolari.
The result is that the Selecao will likely take to the field against Croatia on Thursday with the same XI which lined up in four of the five matches last summer as the host nation claimed Confederations Cup glory. Neymar will take up his usual spot just behind Fred, joining Oscar and Hulk in attacking midfield positions as part of a settled lineup.
Croatia boss Niko Kovac has no such luxuries, with Danijel Pranjic unlikely to start after he picked up a nasty ankle injury in the final warmup fixture against Australia in Salvador at the weekend. The Panathinaikos defender joins fellow left back Ivan Strinic on the sidelines, but unlike the Dnipro man he remains in the squad with an outside chance of featuring.
Genoa’s Sime Vrsaljko stands by to take Pranjic’s place, although Vedran Corluka could move to the flank with Dynamo Kiev’s Domagoj Vida starting in the centre of defense.

Nikica Jelavic is likely to lead the line in attack after the Hull City striker netted the only goal against the Socceroos. Mario Mandzukic, who admitted this week that his time with Bayern Munich is over, sits out the opening fixture through suspension follow his sending off for serious foul play in the World Cup qualifying playoff against Iceland in November, with Jelavic his most natural replacement.

Kovac, who skippered his country in its short-lived 2006 World Cup campaign in Germany which also began against Brazil, does at least have Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric to choose from in midfield, with Eduardo, Mateo Kovacic and Ivan Perisic all fit to join them in a five-man engine room.

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