After months of anticipation Brazil finally embarked on their quest to end sixty four years of hurt since they last hosted the World Cup. On that occasion it was Uruguay who won the tournament with a victory over Brazil and the nation has never quite forgotten the embarrassment however Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side worked to a 3-1 victory over Croatia this evening.
If the opening ceremony of the tournament was at best disappointing, the action on the pitch was the complete opposite. The release of three ‘doves of peace’ was soon forgotten when David Luiz clattered into Nikica Jelavic less than a minute into the match. The tempo was set.
Brazil, rather surprisingly given the fever pitch atmosphere inside Arena Corinthians, started the match in a collected manner. Thiago Silva spread calm throughout the heart of the tine and the opening goal which went Croatia’s way was a complete surprise.
Ivan Rakitic who is on the cusp of joining FC Barcelona was the catalyst for Croatia’s goal. The midfielder picked the ball up inside his own half and powered through Brazil’s midfield before finding Ivica Olic on the left flank, just outside Brazil’s penalty area. Olic who had himself just missed a great chance from a free header delivered an inch perfect cross which David Luiz could only flick into the path of teammate Marcelo who unfortunately poked the ball into his own goal. It was the first time in history that the opening goal of a World Cup was an own-goal.
Brazil, feeling the pressure from an expectant home crowd, began attacking in a more frenzied and panicked way. A positive to take from this for Scolari was that these frenzied attacks came with great regularity which allowed the hosts to build pressure upon Croatia.
Brazil’s equaliser was not a surprise and even more unsurprisingly was that it came through the nation’s poster boy, Neymar. It must be said that the bulk of the hard-work came through Oscar in the build up to the goal. The Chelsea midfielder illustrated the massive physical improvements he has undergone since the arrival of Jose Mourinho by riding three challenges before passing to Neymar whose scuffed shot twenty five yards away from goal found the corner of the net.
In truth the scuff on the shot actually helped Neymar as it dragged the ball right into the corner ensuring Stipe Pletikosa stood no chance of making a save.
Following his goal Neymar grew into the game. All of a sudden he was everywhere, always asking for the ball and moving deep into midfield to receive it, it was almost as if the goal had awoken him from a slumber and he was now aware of the hype and expectation surrounding him in his home country.
As the second half started the tempo in the game had dropped noticeably. It seemed as if both teams were having trouble readjusting to the on-field conditions. As such there were very few chances to speak of inside the opening ten minutes of the half.
As the match wore on it was clear the game was becoming stretched. Both teams preferred to knock the ball across their own midfield that kick-start a forward move. Scolari recognised this and introduced a deep lying playmaker in Hernanes which gave Brazil more control at the heart of midfield.
It was no coincidence that soon after the Brazilian pressure once again began to build. Fred received the ball inside the penalty area after yet more wonderful work from Oscar, only to be dragged down by Vedran Corluka, or so it appeared. Corluka was incredibly unlucky to have a penalty given against him and it only furthered coach Niko Kovac’s frustration at a referee who had struggled to maintain a level of consistency all evening long.
Despite a stop-start run-up Neymar dispatched the penalty courtesy of Pletikosa’s right hand and Brazil were ahead for the first time.
As the tournament opener approached its climax the Croatian team lost their discipline. Frustrated at the decisions that seemingly had gone against them throughout the encounter, tackles started to fly in and it was with caution that Scolari withdrew Neymar with five minutes left to play.
The result was sealed less than a minute into added time. Croatian had thrown men forward in attack and were unlucky not to equalise with Julio Cesar being forced to make two impressive saves. However Brazil took full advantage and counter attacked through Oscar who got a deserved goal to round off his man of the match performance with an innovative strike from outside the box which in truth Pletikosa really should have stopped.
Brazil take a much needed three points in Group A however with Paulinho’s poor display alongside Luiz Gustavo there is a real decision to be made before the Selecao’s next match against Mexico on Tuesday.