It wasn’t exactly according to the recommended script, but the final result was certainly desired. Brazil opened their World Cup campaign in the Arena de Sao Paulo with a 3-1 win against Croatia. Despite the flattering result, the match was rather even, and it was certainly not without controversy and events that make headlines.
Croatia took the match to the Selecao from the off and did open the scoring in the 10th minute through a Marcelo own goal. The Balkan side certainly were not afraid in the first half, but it would be their only goal of the match.
Wunderkind Neymar, despite so many hopes and expectations on his shoulders, found the net for his first goal after he popped up just outside the box to see his scuffed shot still manage to trickle past a slow reacting Stipe Pletikosa. The half would end 1-1 but Croatia looked good value for the score line.
The second half would be far more eventful however. Brazil’s second goal would not come till the 70th minute, when Brazil was awarded a dubious penalty after Fred was “brought down” in the box by Dejan Lovren. Replay’s clearly showed (and to be fair, even during live run of play) that Fred was more likely to have been shot from an unknown gunman in the crowd. Never the less, Neymar would step up and convert his effort from the spot, despite Pletikosa getting both paws on the shot.
“If that was a penalty, we should play basketball…we better give up now and go home” – Nico Kovac
Croatia surely would regret not capitalizing on their early first half lead, and coach Nico Kovac has his troops sit deeper rather than press on. In the latter stages of the second half they would wake up again, creating multiple high quality chances but could just not convert.
In the 90th minute, Oscar, who was absolutely brilliant throughout, would do well to beat his man and set off on a run that would result in his outside of the foot effort from 20 yards beat Pletikosa, despite it being another tame effort. 3-1 and the result was then no longer in doubt, but it certainly was flattering.
Brazil certainly came out soft early, and whether it was nerves or just because perhaps they are not as good as so many expect, it was certainly telling. More importantly, Luiz Felipe Scolari will have to resolve the issues created by his rampaging wing-back pair of Marcelo and Dani Alves. They may be incredibly effective in pushing on forward, but the space they consistently left at the back would have ruthlessly been exploited by a side with better quality wingers. Ivica Olic and Ivan Perisic did well, but against someone like Eden Hazard, Angel Di Maria or Thomas Muller, Brazil could be found out in stunning fashion.
More to the point, Brazil lacked the cohesion and off the ball movement that we have become so accustomed to seeing from them. Many have been talking about it before the tournament – so many feel that this is one of the weaker Brazil teams in the last twenty years at least. They will no doubt feed off the energy from the home support, but on this performance, they do not have enough to beat Germany in an expected semi-final clash.
As for Croatia, full credit to them for their performance. They learned a hard lesson in not fully capitalizing on their early lead, but they still have the quality to progress into the knockout stages. With the impending return of both Mario Mandzukic and Daniel Pranjic, Croatia will have added quality that can push them onwards. Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic will no doubt influence their next two fixtures, and Mandzukic will surely be a welcomed sight in the box where Nikica Jelavic failed to make the grade.
Brazil square off with Mexico on Tuesday, while Croatia tackles Cameroon on Wednesday. Another solid result will surely see Brazil top the group. Croatia can certainly right the ship against Cameroon, and I fully expect them to.