By Andrew Collins
BRAZIL 3 CROATIA 1
An own goal (Brazil), disallowed goal (Croatia), contentious penalty (Brazil), four yellow cards, scrappy midfield action throughout and a last minute demonstration outside the ITV studio in Copacabana – a dramatic and somewhat messy opening match to the 2014 World Cup.
The opening ceremony in Sao Paulo was pleasant enough – nothing wild or pulse-pounding – the theme being the diversity of nature and people of Brazil. We had Lord of the Rings Ent-like jungle trees stomping about, trampolining lilies, waif-like dancing raindrops, ceremonial nods to Portuguese colonists dressed in traditional attire, a giant effigy of a traditional Brazilian woman – all atop a wildly tinted swirls covering the pitch. It all looked colourful and flamboyant, with costumed plant life swirling and cavorting, people as footballs, and a spot of Capoeira performed but it never properly excited. Perhaps it had something to do with the truly awful sound, acoustically as if you were standing dejectedly outside the stadium with one ear glued to the wall.
Claudia Leitte, Jennifer Lopez
However, a giant video ball centre pitch added a fascinating and mesmerising dimension to it all, and a song performance by the lovely Brazilian TV star Claudia Leitte, a chap called Pitbull and er, Jennifer Lopez (when did she become Brazilian?!) looked great, although the sound continued to be appalling.
The top-down camera shots looked superb, mapping out the continually moving psychedelic spectacle below, and really added a new dimension to the excellent choreography. A+ for effort but as a cohesive spectacle and memorable visual treat, the ITV intro sequences (ultra slo-mo samba drumming on paint topped drums) and excellent montages of street life and Cariocas took gold for me.
BRAZIL vs CROATIA – first half
The pressure was certainly on for the host nation’s team – they hadn’t lost an opening game since the 1930s, and given the well documented protests against the World Cup, a win would surely help bring the country onside. The teams emerged from the tunnel excited, fresh and keen as you might expect – and the Japanese referee took the match ball off its stand. Called the ‘bazooka’ and featuring a colourful pattern equally as wild as the opening ceremony’s backdrop, it’s apparently more aerodynamic and heavier than the balls used in South Africa for the last World Cup.
Post kick off, both teams went at each other with equal vigour, but it soon became apparent Croatia weren’t seeing this match as a lost cause. Although Brazil typically had more possession, Croatia were a lot more confident when they had the ball, passing with consummate skill. Brazil soon appeared nervous, and got the shock of their lives when Marcello scored an own goal from an unfortunate deflection at just 11 minutes in. The arena deflated. Croatia couldn’t believe their luck, and set about pressing the beleaguered Brazilian team relentlessly. They couldn’t capitalise on their lead, however, and Neymar saved the day – and what would have been the eternal shame of Marcello – by equalising just 18 minutes later with a canny 25 yard shot into the right hand corner, deflecting off the post.
The canary shirts regained their confidence, but staunch defence and acute interception of the ball by Croatia together with silly long ball give-away passes by Brazil (who often reminded me of England playing on the back foot), meant that the score was 1-1 at half time. That and a yellow card for Neymar meant an awkward and inauspicious start for the host nation. Brazil had a lot of work to do in the second half.
BRAZIL vs CROATIA – second half
Scrappy midfield action and noticeably angrier play marked out the beginning of the second half. Both teams had everything to play for, and indeed Croatia remained even more solid and composed than in the first half, displaying excellent co-ordination when they had possession. They got their own yellow card in the 64th minute (Corluka’s badly judged challenge on Neymar) as the atmosphere and game play really heated up.
Something unfortunate and controversial was bound to happen given the increased tension in the pack, and sure enough, Fred Guedes came down in Croatia’s penalty box with a touch from Loveren’s hand on his shoulder. It entirely unmalicious, and almost certainly a fall on purpose by the Brazilian, but the penalty was given anyway, much to Croatia’s fury.
Neymar de Silva Santos Jnr.
Neymar manned up, trotted and danced toward the ball before finally taking the shot. Stipe Pletikosa, Croatia’s goal keeper, went the right way and got a hand to it, but it was not enough. 2-1 to Brazil and the stadium – most especially coach Scolari – erupted in joy. It was an undeserved penalty – ‘soft’ in football parlance, but gave the Latin team huge impetuous.
Also, apparently, to a large portion of the crowd, who shortly after decided to start insulting the attendant President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff. The audible chant of “Hey Dilma, vai to mar no cu!” echoed around the stadium for several minutes. Roughly translated, strongly urging her to do something rude to herself – perhaps echoing the feelings of the World Cup protesters outside, ironically.
Croatia fired back some 12 minutes later after hard battling through Brazilian defence, but Ivan Perisic’s close quarter shot and subsequent goal was quickly disallowed. Another quirk of fate in this unpredictable fixture, but upon replay this decision did seem correct.
Oscar Emboaba Jnr.
Further dogged attacks by the visiting team bore no fruit, and their fate was sealed by a superb extra time goal by Oscar Emboaba Jnr., calmly punting it past the keeper and keeping Brazil’s incredible opening match win record perfectly intact.
A convoluted first clash in the World Cup then; Brazil still finding their feet and not displaying any of their customary magic as of yet, Croatia down but given their solid and mature performance this evening, definitely not out by any means.
FINAL SCORE – BRAZIL 3, CROATIA 1
Marcelo Viera (BRAZIL) – 11 mins (own goal, deflection from NIKICA JELAVIC’s shot)
Neymar de Silva Santos Jnr. (BRAZIL) – 29 mins
Neymar de Silva Santos Jnr. (BRAZIL) – 71 mins
Oscar dos Santos Emboaba Jnr. (BRAZIL) – 91 mins
MAN OF THE MATCH – Neymar de Silva Santos Jnr.
FRIDAY 13th June, 5.00pm (Group A)