For much of the game, it appeared as though the Croatians had the perfect game plan. For a team technically gifted as Brazil, it can be frustrating when the opposing team puts 10 men behind the ball. Open space allows the Selecao to express their beautiful brand of football. With a crowd starved 60 years of hosting a World Cup, it was important for the Croats to bunker down and survive the first 15 minutes. They did more than that. Croatia looked incredibly dangerous on the counter attack and perhaps should have been up a goal even before Marcelo knocked the ball into his own net in the 11th minute.
Being down a goal at home with a raucous crowd can be an anxious time. If this 1 – nil lead bled into the second half, the anxiety of the crowd would have multiplied with each passing minute. As a neutral fan, I was pretty excited to see this sort of drama on day one of the Cup. However, the Messiah of the Selecao quelled all fear. You could talk me into Neymar’s first goal being a masterfully aimed strike or a goalie being caught on the wrong foot. It doesn’t matter. The insane pressure on Brazil is lifted. You knew Brazil would get a second goal eventually.
For me, I struggle with Americans who say they hate flopping in “soccer”. When you have 90 minutes that mean so much to your career and your country in this tournament, it makes sense to be very focused on winning. Winning in a football match only takes a goal or two most of the time. A penalty kick provides a goal about 80% of the time. If you are in that penalty box and a player grabs or kicks you, how is it not your natural reaction to go down and draw that foul? Not very different from LeBron or Kobe yelling every single time they drive the lane just to get two free throws on an errant shot attempt.
Because I get to see the replay in slow motion, I would say Fred’s penalty should not have been called. However, that is the risk you take anytime you grab someone in the box as a defender. The call didn’t bother me, but again, I am a neutral fan in this game. The final score line of 3-1 was slightly harsh on the Croatians. Neymar having two goals on his resume is also slightly misleading, as he could have had both shots saved. Again, it does not matter. The headlines will read that Neymar led Brazil to a convincing win with his double. The home favorites are not the best team in the tournament, but they have confidence and a crowd.