A laboured start from Brazil at World Cup

Croatia's Luka Modric, centre, is fouled by Brazil's Luiz Gustavo, right, in Thursday’s World Cup opener. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)

Here’s what happened on Thursday at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, in case you missed it…

The result

Read match report: Brazil beats Croatia in opener

Thoughts on the day

A shaky start by the Brazilians: Don’t be fooled by the 3-1 score line, as it rather flatters the Brazilians. Luiz Felipe Scolari’s men laboured for long stretches in this match against a Croatian side that showed very well on the ball—especially Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic. Neymar and Oscar provided sparks going forward and Luis Gustavo was a dominating presence in midfield.

But fullback Marcelo and Dani Alves were caught out of position on a few occasions, and Croatia did a good job of containing Brazil’s attack. This was far from a complete performance that the blood-thirsty crowd in Sao Paulo was lusting after, and Brazil is going to have to be much better in future games or run the risk of getting overturned by a stronger opponent.

The penalty call: Croatia took an early lead through a Marcelo own goal before Neymar tied things up later in the first half. Croatia frustrated Brazil as the game wore on, and it looked as though the hosts might be held to a draw in the opening game of the tournament. But then, in the 69th minute, Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura pointed to the spot after he judged Croatian defender Dejan Lovren to have brought down Brazilian forward Fred. Replays showed that Fred, in fact, had backed into Lovren, resulting in one of the dodgiest and softest penalty calls at the World Cup in recent memory.

That was the turning point. Neymar duly slotted home from 12 yards, and Brazil had the lead and the momentum. It was a cruel and laughable decision, and left a bad mark on the day’s events. And while Brazil did end up winning 3-1, there can be no doubt that it was the benefactor of a generous penalty call. One hopes this wasn’t a sign of things to come in this tournament, and instead just a one off. One hopes.

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Stat of the day

Goal of the day

Brazil’s second goal was dodgy, but Croatia could have no complaints about Oscar’s bullet in injury time. The Chelsea star weaved his way through the Croatian defence before unleashing a low, pile-driver from long range that beat Croatian goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa.

Save of the day

After Croatia took a 1-0 lead, Brazil came alive and nearly equalized in the 22nd minute. Neymar did well to fend off Ivan Rakitic while dribbling along the end-line before pulling a pass back for Oscar. The Chelsea man curled a gorgeous shot from 22 yards out that was destined for the corner, but Pletikosa made a diving stop to preserve the lead.

Best moment of the day

Toronto FC goalkeeper Julio Cesar was in tears after singing the Brazilian national anthem. You have respect that kind of passion.

He said it

“That is shameful, this is not a World Cup referee. He had one kind of criteria for them and another for us. The rules were not the same.” — Niko Kovac, Croatia manager

Question of the day

Tweet of the day

You have to feel sorry for this poor guy:

3 stars

1) Neymar: The Barcelona star netted two goals to help Brazil past a pesky Croatia side.
2) Oscar: Outstanding in possession and dangerous when venturing forward in attack.
3) Ivica Olic: He caused a few problems for Brazil’s defence, and it was his cross into the box that led to Marcelo’s own goal.

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