2014 FIFA World Cup: 4 Opening-Game Thoughts

The Brazil national team celebrated with the rest of the fervent Corinthians Stadium crowd after a victory. (Tom Jenkins)

The Brazil national team celebrated with the rest of the fervent Corinthians Stadium crowd after a victory. (Tom Jenkins)

1) It’s too bad that the early, disastrous own goal rattled Marcelo and threw him off course for the remainder of the match. The fullback has can jolt the Brazilian attack with runs down the wings, but he turned miserably sloppy, and couldn’t effectively connect on quick passes with teammates, following the 0-1 deficit created at the 11th minute because of his blunder–which was more unlucky than inept. At the same time, Brazil seemed due to surrender a goal in the early-going, playing extremely conservative and lifeless to their own detriment, as opposed to the free-spirited Croats; in other words, the O.G. was just a product of overall sluggishness, timidity, and over-cautiousness, and not so much of Marcelo’s mistake. Furthermore, the Selecao needed a wake-up call: attackers remained too far upfield, leaving too much space open in the midfield for Croatia to operate and create potent counterattacks moving forward. After shockingly conceding a goal, Brazil responded by closing these gaps and bridging the offensive attack and defensive line (that overall played stoutly, though yielding dangerous shots on Julio Cesar at times), resulting in more fluidity and unity in pushing the ball up.

2) Luis Felipe Scholari has not found the most productive group of starters and must further experiment with combinations–he’ll find no better time to do so than in the two remaining group games, matchups against Mexico and Cameroon. Hulk and Paulinho underwhelmed terribly on the right side of the pitch, making flank runs by Dani Alves all the more necessary in the future. On a related note, play down the wings ended mostly in vain for Brazil with the original starting lineup today, as crosses–from set pieces or just organically developed–were inexplicably deficient and lacking in precision and power. Substitutes infused the team with some energy, as Hernanes made one or two assertive runs splitting through the Croat defense, and Bernard linked up well with Neymar in 20 minutes of shared time on the left side; Scholari also has the unused playmaking winger Willian at his disposal off the bench in the next games, constituting yet another option for adding verve into the Brazilian lineup.

3) Closer looks from replays validated several questionable calls by the referee, perhaps with the exception of Fred’s flop, during which a Croat defender still interfered with his upper arm/shoulder a bit. The calls came especially in favor of Brazil, and generally pointed to Croatia’s mindset during the game: playing with physicality, and constantly pressuring and fouling their opponents. This kind of approach is often emulated by an underdog team willing to sustain a few cards, and versus the Brazilians, showed the method’s effectiveness against the host nation. The Selecao will likely always have the better talent on paper, but physical play has now proven a hindrance to Brazil’s preferred tempo and its progress, signaling that future opponents will likely adhere to a similar style of aggression.

4) While Neymar grabbed the tying and go-ahead goals in Sao Paulo, Oscar had the true player-of-the-game type performance. Along with some superb strikes on goal, the midfielder led the comeback victory for Brazil, using his creativity to initiate offensive pushes and his speed to further move them along. Efficiently passing both on the ground and through air, Oscar also assisted on Neymar’s first goal that came from outside the goalie box, and then had a powerful solo run to add a goal of his own; the stoppage time score was not so much icing on the cake, but more so a way to extinguish any remaining hopes Croatia had to equalize (and coming close to doing so at some points).

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