Football

Brazil come from behind to beat Croatia in fortuitous circumstances

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Much has been made about the heat and humidity of Brazil in the build up to the World Cup, But it was a mild night when Brazil began their campaign to try and win a maiden World Cup on home soil.

Coached by Luiz Felipe Scolari, Brazil have a manager who has won a World Cup before. A nation expects. 

Things started in a frenzy. An early Kovacic shot strayed wide of goal however, perhaps an indication that despite Brazil's flair, they still look frail defensively?

Chances were then shared in the fifth and sixth minute as first Luiz's header lacked potency and then Ivica Olic, journeyman striker, headed wide when really he should have put the Croatian's 1-0 up. 

After 11 minutes Ivan Rakitic broke well from midfield, Paulinho dived in but missed the tackle. Rakitic who has recently agreed a deal with Barcelona, passed to Olic on the left. Olic then drove a low cross in to the Brazilian penalty area. Only for Marcelo to inadvertently score an own goal and stun the home crowd.

Not the start Brazil or indeed the rest of the footballing world had expected.

Brazil held the upper hand in the possession stakes but the Croatian's built on solid foundations looked dangerous on the counter attack and were looking to expose the defensive weaknesses that seem almost an inherent trait in Brazilian football teams.

Croat coach, Niko Kovac, a former robust international defender, had set up Croatia to sit back and play on the counter attack. With Brazil controlling much of the possession, a mixture of youth and experience went about their game plan in workman like style. 

Despite defensive sturdiness, the Brazilians were still creating chances. Good work from Chelsea play-maker, Oscar, allowed him the space to send a cross in to the area only for it to evade front-men Neymar and Fred. 

Paulinho then Oscar both forced saves out of Pletikosa. The Croatians led but Brazil were still more than in the game. 

After 26 minutes Neymar was booked for a raised arm when challenging for the ball. Controversial, after replays showed that he may have been lucky to escape a red card.

Just 3 minutes later the lively and persistent Oscar set up Neymar to almost scuff his shot from outside the area on to the right hand post and evade the outstretched arms of Croatian goalkeeper Pletikosa. 1 all.

It was Neymar's thirty-second international goal, after he beat both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to 30 international goals. Some record.

Half time in Sau Paulo, 1 all. Oscar and Neymar led the Brazilian charge however questions were raised about the frequency of Croatian chances. 

Substitutions were introduced in the ensuing 23 minutes, which were a less than enthralling affair.

However in the sixty-eighth minute quick feet from Oscar and a low cross, found Fred in the Croat penalty area. Dejan Lovren was adjudged to have brought down the Brazilian striker, only for replays to show that although there was minimal contact with Fred's arm, it was debatable if it were enough contact to bring the striker down. 

Up stepped Brazilian hero, Neymar. Who converted the penalty to score his second of the evening despite Pletikosa getting two hands to the ball. Pletikosa should have done better. 

Although Brazil led, they lacked dynamism in midfield. Neymar and Oscar committed defenders, creating space but didn't have the support to fully capitalize. Scolari's one real selection dilemma was whether to play Paulinho or Ramires. The latter commits players with his speed and athleticism, he could have really changed the game and bossed the midfield. 

Neymar could have had a hat-trick only for Luiz to spurn the opportunity in front of the waiting striker. 

A late Croatian flurry left Brazil hanging on.

In Scolari's previous World Cup victory with Brazil, he had employed Roberto Carlos and Cafu as wing-backs. Who would bomb up and down the flanks acting as fifth and sixth midfielders. Marcelo and Alves were used likewise, however this led to the Croatians being able to isolate centre backs, Thiago Silva and David Luiz. 

Brazil at times were left very stretched at the back. Luiz, who is poised to become the most expensive ever defender and join Silva at Paris Saint Germain for a reported fee of £50 million pounds, is not good enough. His lapses in concentration occur almost every game and this will cost Brazil at one time if they continue to pick him. 

In the ninetieth minute Perisic struck a fierce shot only for Cesar to palm to safety. Brazil then countered with Oscar scoring a deserved goal from a clever shot outside the area. Pletikosa, again, should have done better. 

A 3-1 final scoreline flattered Brazil. However a Neymar brace gives Brazil the win they craved and he will rightly get the plaudits. But no one worked harder or perhaps produced the quality that Oscar showed. Croatia look good on this form to qualify for the second round, they should be able to beat Mexico and Cameroon if they can convert some of the chances they create. 

Questions were again posed of Brazil's defensive vulnerability, the full backs left the centre backs exposed. And David Luiz cannot cope at this level at centre back. The questions were left unanswered and it remains to be seen whether Brazil can realistically retain ambitions of winning another World Cup.

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Topics:
World Cup
Brazil Football
Football

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