Brazil recovered from an early own goal to seal a 3-1 victory over Croatia and secure three points in the opening game of the 2014 World Cup, as they look to claim their sixth trophy and win the tournament for the first time on home soil.
Brazil started on the back foot and were exposed by Croatia after a number of weak forays forward allowed their European opponents to counter to deadly effect. Ivica Olic was a dangerous presence down the left, operating almost like a second striker, and put a teasing cross into the box which was eventually turned into his own net by Marcelo. The stadium fell silent as Brazil capitulated early on.
The pressure became heavier on Brazil, but Scolari’s men kept their cool and continued to pass the ball around. Unfortunately they came up against a solid Croatia side, with a five man midfield condensing the game and restricting Brazil’s trio, while Fred was anonymous in the box as he found himself crowded out by a strong defensive partnership of Dejan Lovren and Vedran Corluka.
But persistence paid off, and as expected it was Neymar who got the hosts on level terms when his miss-hit shot beat 'keeper Pletikosa into the corner of the net; the Barcelona man had been a shadow of the player who opened the Confederations Cup in extraordinary fashion, but gradually enjoyed more freedom in the centre and carved out the opportunity to draw Brazil level. Croatia’s confidence was slightly knocked, but Niko Kovac’s men were able to hold out and withstand a few chances that fell for Paulinho and Oscar to go into half time level.
Brazil were renewed in the second half and looked more in control, but were unable to break down a rigid Croatia side. The significant moment came with 20 minutes to go when, with a controversial fall by Fred under pressure from Lovren, Brazil were awarded a debatable penalty which Neymar duly dispatched for his second of the game. Brazil took the lead for the first time, but Croatia weren’t finished.
The ball did end up in the back of the Brazil net for the second time but unfortunately was ruled out, presumably for a supposed Olic foul on goalkeeper Julio Cesar. Insult was added to injury when Oscar capped a strong display with a neat finish to round off the game and made the final score 3-1. It highlighted the ease with which they ended the game and the confidence they can take, dealing with a solid Croatia side that were solid in defence but tricky in attack with the wide running of both Perisic and Olic causing problems.
Brazil weren’t at their best, but proved they were capable of winning comfortably even when they’re on the back foot and achieved what they set out for; a win in the opening game of the World Cup, with a few goals for golden boy Neymar to prove he is ready to compete for the Golden Boot. The more difficult game is out the way, and now Brazil will be looking for a 100% record when they play both Mexico and Cameroon.
Star Man: Oscar
Neymar might have grabbed the goals to turn the game around, but Chelsea’s midfield man proved maturity for his age with an inspired performance in which he harried Croatia and persisted in his role on the left flank, producing a number of great crosses and capping a stellar performance with a goal to ensure victory.
Though usually deployed in the centre of midfield behind the striker, Oscar proved his adaptability in switching to the right to accommodate Scolari’s desire to play Neymar through the centre and it worked wonders as he proved his ability to cross and press even out wide. His run gave Neymar the opportunity to score, before capping a good night with a goal of his own; that goal epitomised a strong display from the Chelsea player, who will hope for many more good performances at this tournament.
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