Two goals from poster boy Neymar brought host country Brazil a somewhat fortuitous victory over a battling Croatia side.
The traditional opening ceremony that took place before the match was something of a farce, with little sense of Brazilian identity and vibrancy; instead there was what could only be described as a “mess” of dancers in costumes ranging from martial artists to rainforest trees. The anticipated anthem of the games from music stars Jennifer Lopez and Pitbull failed to ignite, with microphone problems looking like an ominous sign for the rest of the tournament. Luckily, simultaneously I was enjoying a barbeque in the garden, so didn’t have to sit through two hours of ITV coverage which had serious documentary style sections in the midst of jokey interviews and Adrian Chiles with his monotonic grunts.
Mishmash: The Opening Ceremony seemed a confused affair.
Brazil in the early stages also failed to ignite, with the pre-tournament favourites looking nervous at the back against the Croatian counter-attacks. The majority of the stadium was then stunned into silence on 11 minutes when a low cross was turned towards goal by Everton striker Nikica Jelavic, which hit the foot of Brazilian left back Marcelo and went into the net. Brazil quickly tried to find a rhythm but their passing was scrappy and broken up by the determined Croatian side.
But as the game approached the half hour mark, Brazil finally showed some of the passion that engulfed the stadium when the national anthem played with Neymar putting a scrappy finish past Stipe Pletikosa. There were questions as to whether Neymar should have even been on the pitch at the time, with a yellow card his only punishment after catching Luka Modric with a stray arm in the face. The rest of the half went with little drama, with the game remaining on a knife-edge.
The second half, for the most part went with a similar vibe, with neither team able to take their chances. However, in an unbelievable turn of events, the host nation found themselves ahead. Firstly, Fred slipped in the penalty area under pressure from defender Lovren but the referee awarded a penalty, to angry reactions from Croatia. Neymar took the penalty and his stuttering run led goalkeeper Pletikosa to guess the right way, but the power allowed it to squirm away from his gloves and into the net. Then Croatia felt that they should have been level, but their goal was disallowed after Jelavic was mistakenly judged to have fouled the Brazilian keeper Julio Cesar. Oscar then scored with a toe poke from the edge of the area to send the stadium into ecstasy.
Personally, I felt that Brazil were incredibly lucky to get away with a relatively comfortable looking scoreline, while Croatia have a just case to feel hard done by the decisions from the officials. The host country, that many bookies have named as the favourites, did not do a good enough job to suggest that they are a certainty to reach the latter stages, with the passing and defending still having question marks over. At the end of the day, it was a bit of luck that helped Brazil, but their desire to lift the trophy in front of their home fans should not be underestimated. In all though, it was a good match which, though marred by controversy, was a good advert for the attacking side of the game. However, one game in and I have already had enough with Adrian Chiles; he lacks knowledge about the game of football, and seems to think England are better than any other team. Shame ITV couldn’t find anyone more suited to the job of presenting what will be a great sporting event.
Game Rating: 4 stars
Opening Ceremony Rating: -4 stars