Though it could hardly compare with the insanity of the opening ceremony, there were plenty of moments of madness in the World Cup’s first match. Brazil came through with the win that everyone expected, but it wasn’t an easy ride. Croatia certainly put up a fight, but it was a peculiar tendency to hit the self-destruct button that nearly did in the host country. This first game will certainly give the experts pause in continuing to back Brazil as favorites to win the tournament.
Croatia started with a bang. A barrage of shots in the opening minutes was finally rewarded when Brazil first imploded, allowing a mis-hit shot by Nikica Jelavic to bounce in off the unfortunate Marcello (who spent the rest of the game trying frantically to atone).
This woke Brazil up a bit. Neymar got a booking for throwing a nasty elbow before almost immediately equalizing the score with a low-but-powerful long-range effort.
Japanese ref Yuichi Nishimura also played a part in the Brazil win. In the 71st minute, Fred (yes, just Fred) was sent tumbling to the ground under Dejan Lovren’s slightest of touches. Neymar’s spot kick went straight to the back of the net, despite the fact that Stipe Pletikosa appeared to get a full palm to it. Nishimura would again influence the game later on, disallowing an equalizer for Croatia for a foul on keeper Julio Cesar that appeared to be a 50-50 challenge between him and striker Ivica Olic. Keepers are often given the benefit of the doubt in fouls, but not this time.
Oscar would add a third goal for Brazil in stoppage time, giving the score more of a slant than it perhaps deserved.
Croatia can be somewhat aggrieved at the result given the controversy around the two goals, but the real talking point should be how sloppy and nervous Brazil looked. Whatever fear factor they had working for them going in has been lessened by this performance. Brazil can be rattled.
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