It was a good opening match for the 2014 World Cup between Brazil and Croatia. After a hard-fought, but still well-played battle between the two sides, the Brazilians got away with a 3-1 victory in front of 68,000 fans at the Arena São Paulo. Not surprisingly, Barcelona star Neymar was the best player of the match, and saved the day for the home team.
Brazil scored all four goals of the game, really. The match started with an own goal by left-back Marcelo, to put Croatia up 1-0. Then, still in the first half, Neymar scored a nice left kick goal that slowly rolled through Croatia's goalie Pletikosa. In the second half, Brazil would take back the advantage after a controversial (at minimum) penalty commited on Fred. Neymar converted the penalty-kick, and put the homies ahead. At the end of the game, Oscar would score the third and decisive goal with a perfect right kick during a counter-attack.
Croatia was the better team. Straight up. They were playing under Brazil pressure and they delivered. They made almost no mistakes on defense and were smart and quick on offense, always bringing danger to the opposing box. Soon-to-be Blaugrana Ivan Rakitic played an amazing match, defending well the whole game and doing damage when at offense, helping Luka Modric on the team's midfield creation. Croatia's middle men outplayed Brazil's mids, dominated that part of the field and got pretty close to winning the game a couple of times.
Brazil, on the other hand, struggled a lot, and things got worse after Marcelo's own goal. The Seleção had zero midfield creativity and relied heavily on long crosses and deep passes that went nowhere. Croatia set up a strong defensive scheme, and the home team had a lot of trouble trying to break it up. The only time they did in the first half, Neymar showed up and tied the game during Brazil's worst strech in the first 45 minutes. The goal helped relax the team and they started playing with more patience and creativity. But they never truly came close to the second score.
They weren't close to it on the second half, either. No adjustments were made and Brazil started playing with too much urgency and not a lot of brains. Until Mr. Nishimura happened. The referee awarded Brazil a controversial penalty, to say the least, in which center-forward Fred clearly fell to the ground with no contact from Croatia's defender. The visitors complaints didn't change Nishimura's mind, and Brazil went up 2-1 after Neymar almost missed the penalty-kick, but still put it into the net.
After that, Croatia clearly had to attack, and they did it pretty well. A couple of substitutions gave both Modric and Rakitic a little more freedom, and they made the team better offensively. Croatia had three real chances, but Brazil's defense did enough to stop them. Then, in one of the last plays of the game, Brazil recovered the ball and unleashed a mortal counter-attack, in which midfielder Oscar -- one of the best players of the match -- got his well-deserved goal, that sealed Brazil's victory.
You can call it a robbery if you want too. But you can't deny how important Neymar was to Brazil this Thursday, and how that has got to be the case for the rest of the Cup if Brazil has any chances.
For Croatia, it's kind of a moral draw. They deserved more than a loss, and they played well enough to show they will compete for the second place in Group A easily.
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