Brazil 3, Croatia 1
by Matt Traub
Jun 12, 2014 5:57 PM EDT
There is a reason why John Oliver’s takedown of FIFA last week on HBO went viral on social media. He spoke for millions, and in its own way, he spoke for Brazil’s protestors.
Let’s not beat around the bush; there are thousands of Brazilians who will protest during the World Cup because of the amount of money spent by their government with little return to their people. But that will not keep them from hoping that Neymar scores a hat trick, or that Julio Cesar gets a shutout.
Winning is a great deodorant, we are told, and in this case the Brazilian government can only hope so. Because like it or not, failure to win the World Cup will make even more wonder at what cost was hosting this tournament?
This was not an opening patsy, either. Brazil’s group is manageable to be nice, but Croatia has several top-flight players, even without its top striker serving a suspension. Luka Modric was not going to be overawed by the competition.
And when Croatia took the lead, stunningly, it was not too early to call it a crucial moment for Brazil. This team won the 2011 Confederations Cup seemingly pushed forward by a crowd that in the stands gave them the energy to push forward; given how the positivity pushed the team forward, how destructive would unrest have an effect on the product on the field?
In the end Neymar equalized with a scruffy shot in the first half, and after an equally scruffy call, Neymar’s second came on a penalty in the 71st minute. Brazil showed spells in which it can be justifiably among the favorites, and Croatia showed why, in this writer’s opinion, they will advance out of the group ahead of Mexico and Cameroon.
Dani Alves and Marcelo were poor, and the game was played with a lot of width, which was somewhat surprising for a Brazilian team where its wings up top, Hulk and Neymar, frequently tuck inside. But Oscar was impressive, even before his goal in second half extra time, though the lack of impression made on the match by Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho is worrying going forward.
Spain lost its opening game in 2010 and lifted the Cup. Brazil wins its first game by two goals, one hotly disputed, in 2014. The cliché is not how you start but how you finish. Brazil’s finish will be one of the storylines of this next month, and celebrated inside the stadium even if some protest outside of it.