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World Cup: Brazil should eke out a victory over Croatia in the opener

World Cup: Brazil should eke out a victory over Croatia in the opener
Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic must sit out Thursday's opening game again Brazil because he received a red card in the qualifying round. (Darko Bandic / Associated Press)

If, as they say, the past is prelude, Brazil should win today's World Cup blastoff, 1-0.

The host with the most — talent, charisma, verve — cannot count on oodles of goals. Because the Brazilians are the only squad among 32 for which second place would constitute a profound disappointment, they likely will play, at least for a while, as tight as a cavaquinho string. (That's a ukelele-sized guitar strummed by the locals.)

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Defense-oriented Croatia shapes up as a competitive adversary. No team in the field has been as historically stingy as the Croats, who have ceded just 11 goals in 13 Cup matches, and this edition resembles its ancestors.

The flip side: The Croats are offensively challenged, having failed to exceed two goals in any Cup qualifier. Complicating matters, striker Mario Mandzukic must sit out as penance for being red-carded after a vicious tackle in the qualifying round.

No host side has ever lost on opening day, including 14 wins and six ties. If such precedent is toppled today with the most accomplished soccer program on the globe, the upset would rank up there with David Brat over Eric Cantor.

One more prediction: The 65,000-seat stadium will be full for the kickoff, now that Sao Paulo subway workers have voted not to resume their strike.

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