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FIFA World Cup™ holders and five-times winners, Brazil will be favourites to advance as winners from Group F but predictions of an easy passage could well prove ill-founded. Croatia have their own past exploits to live up to and qualified impressively, while Australia will relish their return to Germany and football's greatest stage after a 32-year hiatus. As for Zico's Japan, they will be aiming to prove that it was not just home advantage that took them into the second round last time out.
  Standings and Results
Group F MP W D L GF GA Pts
BRA 3 3 0 0 7 1 9
AUS 3 1 1 1 5 5 4
CRO 3 0 2 1 2 3 2
JPN 3 0 1 2 2 7 1

13 Jun BRA : CRO 1:0
12 Jun AUS : JPN 3:1
18 Jun BRA : AUS 2:0
18 Jun JPN : CRO 0:0
22 Jun JPN : BRA  
22 Jun CRO : AUS  

Date in your diary: Dortmund, 22 June, Japan v Brazil
Brazil long provided the model for Japanese football to follow – a 'special relationship' underlined by Zico's appointment as Japan coach in 2002. Now the Brazilian football legend must take on the country he represented with such style at three FIFA World Cups.

David v Goliath: Munich, 18 June, Brazil v Australia
The two teams may share a love of gold and green but the similarities end there. While Brazilians have football in their blood, the sport has struggled for prominence Down Under. However, the cheers from the Socceroos' contingent when they were drawn with Brazil underlines this will be an occasion to savour on the Australians' second appearance at the finals.

History repeats itself: Nantes, 20 June 1998, Japan v Croatia Golden Shoe winner Davor Suker's 77th-minute strike settled the sides' meeting at the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France. It was both countries' first finals appearance – and the victory sent eventual semi-finalists Croatia into the second round, while eliminating Japan.


Brazil will be the team to beat in Germany. Ronaldinho alone has the potential to light up the whole tournament and there is no doubt that at their best, Carlos Alberto Parreira's men have the attacking qualities to outclass any opponent. Yet each of their first-round rivals have matched the Seleção at one time or another.

Croatia should be stronger than the ageing team who disappointed at Korea/Japan 2002 and coach Niko Kranjcar will take heart from their 1-1 friendly draw with Brazil last summer. Likewise Zico, whose Japan side gave the Brazilians a real scare in the FIFA Confederations Cup in June, drawing 2-2 but very nearly securing a first ever victory over the South Americans.

Japan will be out to build on their success on home soil in 2002, where they reached the round of sixteen, and their matches with both Croatia and Australia look sure to be closely contested. With that in mind, the winners of their opening fixture against the Socceroos will gain a real shot of confidence. It will be fascinating to see what Guus Hiddink can achieve with the Australians, always combative and now sure to benefit from the experience of the man who led the Netherlands to the 1998 semi-finals and Korea Republic to the last four in 2002.

Did you know?

As trainer of his native Netherlands, Australia coach Guus Hiddink lost to both Brazil and Croatia at France 98.