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World Cup preview: Group A rundown

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A quick look at the teams competing in Group A at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

A look at the teams competing in Group A at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil:

BRAZIL

FIFA World ranking: 4.

Last World Cup: 2010.

Best World Cup finish: Five-time champion (1958, ’62, ’70, ’94, 2002).

How qualified: Host country.

It’s a fact: Brazil hasn’t lost a competitive game at home since September 1975, a string of 57 consecutive games.

The skinny: Brazil is young and talented but inexperienced at the World Cup level, with just five of the 23 men on its roster returning from 2010. But Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has been here before, leading Brazil to its last title in 2002 before guiding Portugal to the semifinals in 2006. He took over Brazil again in November 2012 and was charged with ushering in a new team, which he did with great success in last year’s Confederations Cup as Brazil won for the third straight time. That may not be a good thing though: No reigning Confederations Cup champion has ever won a World Cup.

CAMEROON

FIFA World ranking: 50.

Last World Cup: 2010.

Best World Cup finish: Quarterfinals (1990).

How qualified: Beat Tunisia in CAF playoff.

It’s a fact: This will be Cameroon’s seventh World Cup, most by an African nation. But it has advanced beyond the group stage only once.

The skinny: Cameroon is stocked with talent, but it’s going through a transition with several well-known figures — Geremi and Rigobert Song among them — having given way to youngsters such as Joel Matip, 22, and Nicolas N’Koulou, 24. The new mix was unimpressive in qualifying, a lack of form Cameroon confirmed this spring in losses to Portugal and Paraguay before playing Germany to a draw Sunday. As for how it does in Brazil, that will be decided by forward Samuel Eto’o, who has clashed with teammates and, at 33, is no longer the player who won four African Player of the Year awards.

CROATIA

FIFA World ranking: 20.

Last World Cup: 2006.

Best World Cup finish: Third place (1998).

How qualified: Beat Iceland in UEFA playoff.

It’s a fact: Croatia did not compete as an independent country in the World Cup until 1998, seven years after it declared independence from Yugoslavia.

The skinny: Real Madrid’s Luka Modric has earned the nickname “the Croatian Cruyff” for his elegant and precise passing. But under Coach Niko Kovac, Modric and midfield mates Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic may be asked to sacrifice their attacking skills for a defensive posture — especially with Croatia drawing the unenviable task of playing host Brazil in the opener. The team will be without experienced defender Josip Simunic, who was left home while serving a 10-match international ban for making a neo-Nazi salute after the qualifying win over Iceland.

MEXICO

FIFA World ranking: 19.

Last World Cup: 2010.

Best World Cup finish: Quarterfinals (1970, ’86).

How qualified: Beat New Zealand in intercontinental playoff.

It’s a fact: Coach Miguel Herrera has ordered his players to abstain from sex, red meat and alcohol until after the World Cup.

The skinny: Herrera rescued Mexico at the end of a disastrous qualifying campaign, leading the team to a win over New Zealand in a playoff in November to grab one of the last invitations to Brazil. He hasn’t lost since, going 6-0-2 to raise expectations at home once again. During his short tenure, he has come to rely on a team composed primarily of players from Mexico’s domestic Liga MX, but he lost one of those players Saturday when midfield key Luis Montes broke his right leg moments after scoring in a World Cup warm-up with Ecuador.

GROUP A SCHEDULE

June 12: Brazil vs. Croatia at Sao Paulo.

June 13: Mexico vs. Cameroon at Natal.

June 17: Brazil vs. Mexico at Fortaleza.

June 18: Cameroon vs. Croatia at Manaus.

June 23: Cameroon vs. Brazil at Brasilia; Croatia vs. Mexico at Recife.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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