2014 FIFA World Cup: Day One Recap

It was a forgone conclusion that Brazil would win their opening match of the 2014 World Cup against Croatia, but who knew just how tilted the pitch would be?

Make no mistake: Brazil are the superior squad, favoured to win the whole tournament on home turf, and a 3-1 score at the end of 90 minutes doesn’t look like a rout. But Croatia deserved more of a chance to fight their way into the match.

Fight they did, and valiantly, through tackles and against an official determined to slow Croatia’s aggressive, physical defending. They pushed play forward every chance they had, making streaking runs and wasting no time in attack. The final possession statistic—a 60-40 split in favour of Brazil—belied Croatia’s confidence and enthusiasm.

Referee Yuichi Nishimura wanted none of Croatia’s physical play, though, and willingly gave away free kick after free kick as Brazil’s players took a stop-drop-and-roll approach to every bit of contact. The result was a seemingly balanced two yellow cards for each side, but fouls favoured Brazil by an astounding 21-5 ratio. Croatia certainly initiated more contact than their opponents, but not every bump should have resulted in a free kick for Brazil.

But Croatia could have soldiered on were it not for a brutal call on a clear dive by Brazilian forward Fred in the Croatian penalty area. As Fred received a pass, he responded to a hand on his shoulder by kicking both legs out and dropping to the field, spurring the official to award a penalty. Neymar nearly missed his chance as Croatian keeper Stipe Pletikosa got both hands on his shot, but the ball still found twine and gave the home squad a 2-1 lead, effectively putting the game out of reach. A third goal, off the foot of Oscar in added time, was just another chance for Brazilian fans to celebrate.

Neymar, Brazil’s 22-year-old prodigy, was named man of the match after opening the scoring with a perfectly placed low shot that narrowly evaded Pletikosa and delivering on his penalty opportunity. He was dangerous throughout, using creative footwork to draw in defenders and tallying four shots, all on goal. With Brazil already vanquishing their strongest group stage opponent, Neymar looks poised to punish both Mexico and Cameroon in the days ahead.

Croatia’s lone bit of good fortune was an own goal, off the foot of Brazilian defender Marcelo, in just the 11th minute of the match. Given that Marcelo was one of the prime beneficiaries of fouls and free kicks, his karma seemed to be working in reverse.

Tags: World Cup 2014

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