World Cup 2014: Croatia Strong But Penalty Gift For Flop Saves Brazil’s Opener

Brazil started off their 2014 World Cup bid in the worst possible way they could: Going down 1 – 0 to visiting Croatia, 10 minutes in. To add insult to Brazil’s injury, it was a self-goal by Brazil’s Marcelo.

But a gift from the referee in the 69th minute allowed Brazil to save their 2014 World Cup opener.

Early on, however, bolstered by scoring the first goal of the 2014 World Cup, the red and white contingent of Croatian World Cup fans went berserk in Brazil’s Arena de Sao Paulo. Meanwhile, the sea of yellow jerseyed Brazilian World Cup fans looked first like they’d had the collective wind knocked out of them, and then, after catching their breath, looked ready to weep.

The feisty underdog Croats brought their A-game to host Brazil’s World Cup 2014, continually attacking and creating opportunities in front of the Brazilian goal. 2014’s World Cup favorites, Brazil, on the other hand, seemed to come out as if they’d already won the World Cup, or at least advanced to the next round, allowing the visitors frequent possession and unable to put together a consistent attack.

Following the New York Times Live Blog along with ESPN’S broadcast of Brazil’s World Cup 2014 opener, it was easy to see the surprise at Brazil’s rough start was mutual among many. Attending and Tweeting was the NY Times, Sam Borden:

And his colleague, Juliet Macur:

With Croatia scoring the first goal in Brazil’s own World Cup, the instant expectation was that Brazil would put their foot on the gas and light up the stadium. Unfortunately, however, the next thing to occur was half of the stadium’s lights went out.

Leading up to their hosting the 2014 World Cup, and the 2016 Olympics, there have been many concerns about Brazil’s preparations and readiness for the games to begin. If the lights in Brazil’s main World Cup stadium don’t work, is this a frightening precursor for the rest of the World Cup 2014 facilities and what’s to come?

Along the same lines, more from Sam Borden:

So down 1-0, lights out, something good has to go Brazil’s way, right? Nope.

One of Brazil’s many stars, Neymar, let an elbow fly into the face of a Croatian player, dropping him. In hockey, or even baseball, a bench-clearing brawl would have ensued, but on Brazil’s 2014 World Cup futbol pitch, there was just some pushing and shoving and the referee giving Neymar a yellow card.

But finally the Brazil everyone expected showed up, Neymar himself making up for the yellow card two minutes later, blasting one by the defense to tie the game 1-1 in the 29th minute.

The remainder of the first half saw Brazil growing stronger but the Croatians easily holding their own.

ESPN analyst, Alexi Lalas, commenting at halftime while watching replays of Brazil’s first goal of the 2014 World Cup, thought it never should have happened and visitors should have maintained their 1-0 lead:

“And look who’s going to come away with it – Neymar! Now look, if you’re Croatia, you’re up 1-0. If Brazil’s going to score, make it difficult! I know this is Neymar. I know there’s a lot of attention, but you know what? When you look at Pletikosa (Croatia’s goalkeeper) and what he did here… I think he’s gotta have that!”

The 2nd half was relatively uneventful until Brazil’s prayers were answered… by the referee, who called a penalty in the box, allowing Neymar to put in his second World Cup goal and Brazil to lead 2-1.

Croatia battled but Oscar sealed Brazil’s victory in the 90th minute, finding the back of the net with a strong run.

Was this a wake up call for Brazil? And how will the Croatians respond to the very controversial, game deciding penalty Call? Will the Brazilian facilities hold up?

Whatever happens, it promises to be a very exciting – and interesting – World Cup 2014 in Brazil.

[Image via AP]