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Bayern’s stars in Brazil, part 2

Hosts, underdogs and old rivals

And we're off! World Cup 2014 in Brazil kicks off on Thursday night. Fourteen FC Bayern players are involved with eight teams. Just before the opening game, brings you a brief profile of the teams with FCB stars in their ranks. What are their prospects? What roles do the Munich lads have in the different squads? Part 1 covered Switzerland, Germany, the USA and Belgium. In Part 2, we examine Brazil, Croatia, Spain and Holland.

Group A: Brazil, Croatia (Mexico, Cameroon)

Hosts Brazil are clear favourites to lift the World Cup in 2014, a status underlined by their success at last year's Confederations Cup. The main man for the South American giants is Neymar, the 22-year-old Barcelona star. A Seleção pride themselves on their attacking potential: Fred in the middle,  Hulk on the right, Neymar on the left - this trio embodies the desire of the whole country to claim a sixth World Cup title.

FCB central defender Dante will probably be on the bench for the opener. Captain Thiago Silva and David Luiz are the first choices in central defence as is former Bayern star Luiz Gustavo in holding midfield. Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, at the helm for the most recent triumph in 2002, has assembled an impressive team that goes into the tournament on the back of nine wins on the bounce. The Seleção have not lost any of the past 36 matches on their own turf.

Thursday's opening game in Sao Paulo should show whether the great expectations in the country will help or hinder Brazil in their quest. They kick off with a game against Croatia, a team always capable of causing problems. “We want to provide a shock. We'll have done really well if we can get through to the next round,” said coach Niko Kovac. The former FC Bayern pro, who took charge of the Croatia team in October last year alongside his brother and fellow ex-FCB man Robert (assistant coach), took the Croats to Brazil via a play-off against Iceland and he is still unbeaten in the job.

Kovac will have to make do without the suspended Mario Mandzukic in the opener but the 28-year-old striker is almost certain to be a regular after that. Ivica Olic and Danijel Pranjic are two other players in the Croatia squad who used to wear the FC Bayern shirt. The playmakers in the team led by skipper Darijo Srna are Luka Modric (Real Madrid) and former Schalke midfielder Ivan Rakitic (FC Sevilla).

Group B: Spain, Holland (Chile, Australia)

World Cup winners 2010, European champions 2012 and 2008, top of the world rankings – no other team in Brazil has attracted as much flak as Spain. A lack of drive? Too old? Found out? The troops led by coach Vicente del Bosque are looking to prove the doubters wrong by retaining the World Cup and they go into the tournament as second favourites behind Brazil.

The team has been together for years. Iker Casillas in goal, Sergio Ramos and Gerard Piqué in central defence, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets in defensive midfield, Xavi and Andrés Iniesta as the playmakers. The major change is in attack where Diego Costa from Champions League finalists Atletico Madrid is the first choice up front and the man charged with boosting the ability of the Spaniards to find the back of the net. FCB pro Javi Martínez will probably be named on the bench.

The opening game for Spain against Holland on Friday promises to be a cracker as it is a re-run of the World Cup Final in 2010. The Spaniards won 1-0 after extra time, with Casillas saving a shot from Arjen Robben with his toes. That match has not been forgotten but revenge only counts in a Final, declared Robben ahead of the reunion.

The FCB winger and Dutch captain Robin van Persie are the main men for the Netherlands who were the first European team to qualify for the finals. Wesley Sneijder and Nigel de Jong are also established members of a team that includes a number of young and inexperienced players. Holland’s ex-Bayern coach Louis van Gaal has two other Bundesliga players in his squad in Paul Verhaegh and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Rafael van der Vaart misses out due to injury.

There was much discussion in Holland ahead of the tournament on the subject of a change of formation. Van Gaal switched from the traditional 4-3-3 line-up a month ago in favour of playing two strikers. It remains to be seen whether Holland can avoid a repeat of the early exit from the Euro 2012 tournament. The Netherlands face a tough challenge in their group with surprise package Chile providing another hurdle for the Oranjes after the Spain game.