Brazil and Croatia opened up the World Cup with a great match with the hosts coming out victorious by a score of 3-1. Croatia opened up the scoring with an unfortunate own goal by Marcelo, but the hosts roared back scoring three goals unanswered including a brace from Neymar.
The event has been marred by controversy with protesters constantly challenging the reasoning of spending so lavishly on new stadiums. Even the opening day was prone to protest, as the police cleared a major road in Sao Paulo with tear gas when protesters flooded the streets. Once the day became about football, Brazil shut down to watch their beloved team. The stadium was electric in Sao Paulo and the players could feel the energy, as some of them teared up during the nation anthem.
Possession was dominated early by Brazil and both teams were able to create a few chances early. Ivica Olic played very well in the opening stages for Croatia, missing a headed chance early. However, he opened the scoring with a great low cross that deflected off of Marcelo for an own goal. Marcelo was unlucky as a Croatia player barely nicked the ball just before it reached him, redirecting the ball right into the Brazilian, leaving him little choice but to knock in the own goal. Although Brazil was dominant in possession early on, the better chances were being created by Croatia on the counter attack.
As the first half wore on, Oscar started to really force the issue on the attacking end, putting in some great crosses that his teammates were just missing. The pace of Brazil’s attack started to pick up and they grew more and more confident. Croatia nearly went up 2-0 on another counter attack when Jelavic’s header forced Julio Cesar to make a great save to keep it out. Shortly after, Neymar picked up the ball in the middle of the field and took a low long driven shot right into the corner. The ball deflected off the post and in for the goal. It was not the most powerful shot, but it was taken well and placed perfectly. The stadium erupted and the Brazil squad started to show their confidence. At the half, the teams went into the locker rooms tied, both sides knowing they could have done better with a handful of chances.
The second half started very sloppy for both sides. Neither team played as well as they had in the first half. That changed in the 69th minute when Fred was taken down in the box and given a penalty. He was barely touched but acted as if he were ripped down from behind; the obvious flop only delighted the home fans as Neymar stepped up to take the penalty shot. The Croatian keeper was able to get a hand on the shot, but he only directed it into the corner of the net as Brazil took the lead. After that goal, Croatia started to attack with real menace, dominating the latter part of the second half. Croatia was able to find the back of the net again, seeming tying the game. However, the goal was called off for a foul on Ivica Olic, who was by far their best player throughout the match. The foul did not look like much, as Olic and keeper Cesar both challenged for a ball that eventually ended up in the net, but the play had already been stopped.
Croatia’s hopes for a legitimate equalizer were dashed when Oscar found the ball on the counter-attack. He dribbled through traffic and toe poked it into the bottom corner of the net to give Brazil the 3-1 lead and put the game away. Although Neymar will get the credit for win because of his brace. Oscar was the best player on the field. The midfielder was constantly creating chances for his teammates the entire match and finally got the goal he deserved in the end. The match was controversial with the very debatable penalty call, but overall Brazil deserved to win. Croatia did show others in the competition that they are the real deal and will only be getting better from now on with the return of their star striker Mario Mandzukic. Mandzukic did not play against Brazil due to suspension.
Brazil got what they wanted in the opening match of the 2014 World Cup, defeating Croatia by a score of 3-1. The hosts will play Mexico next and Croatia will play Cameroon. The competition was kicked off in style in Sao Paulo and the home town fans hope that it continues that way throughout.
Commentary by Max Petkevicus