Nikica Jelavic of Croatia scores the decisive goal.

Nikica Jelavic of Croatia scores the decisive goal. Photo: Getty

On a cobbled side street in Salvador's historic town centre, a young woman wearing an Argentina shirt with "Messi 10" on the back crosses paths with a young man wearing a Brazil shirt sporting "Kaka 10", and they smile at each other and slap hands. But daubed on the side of a building a little further up the road, in English so all the world can read it, is this epithet: "F--k the Cup."

Both sentiments are manifestly strong here. In the build-up to the World Cup, not everyone in Brazil is on the same page. The infrastructure is wonderful in concept, but only half-built. The organisation is elaborate, but to judge from the to-ing, fro-ing and waving of hands this night, light on organisation.

The venue for Australia's last hit-out was the Pituacu stadium, doubtlessly grand in its day but now best described as a dowager, not in use every week, with none of the tizz and finery of a modern stadium. Not a single advertising hoarding, for instance. A place with more character than amenity.

It looked good as far as it had to, namely the edge of the floodlights and television pan.

There is the World's Cup, and then this one other. It is the Olympic syndrome, for Brazil right now a two-in-one affliction.

Australia's opponent this tropical night was Croatia, which always make for a schizoid affair.

At least six of the Australians have Croat antecendents and, to add to the internecine effect this night, two of the Croatians are Brazilian by birth.

Though the contest was willing enough, at breaks in the game the players paired off, one Australian, one Croatian, to chatter as old friends met by happenstance in a Balkan back street.

The crowd was small, a scattering really, and deceptive to the eye: there were many green and gold shirts, but at least half were on Brazilians, and why not?

They barracked not for one team or the other, but for artful football - a spin here, a back heel there, a pass to the man who no one saw - and equally hooted at clumsiness: Ben Halloran tangling himself up in his own legs when all alone at the corner flag, for instance. Again, why not? Their game is jogo bonito, not bog boganito.

Here, incidentally, was the difference in class personified.

Luka Modric, of Croatia and Real Madrid, sometimes might not get to the ball, but never will overrun it.

The match had a distinct shape. From the very first play, when Dario Vidosic harried a Croatian defender into near error, Australia hustled and bustled, as it said it would, not without cultivation.

But, for all its huffing and puffing, it did not make a chance worthy of the name.

Ultimately, poise prevailed over passion. But even the lone goal was something of a contradiction: it was well worked, and expertly taken by Nikola Jelavic, and yet other than for a fortuitous deflection would not have been there to take at all.

Two ideas always were going to weigh against one another for the Socceroos in this match: excitement to be at a World Cup, with its Ange Postecoglou concordant that it would be whatever the Socceroos dared to make of it, and apprehension that this still raw and rough rebuild simply will be outclassed.

Slightly, but perceptibly, the scales tipped to the latter.

Postecoglou said Australia's performance was "solid", which was fair enough, but solidity sounds like something a doctor prescribes for bowel movements.

Solidity wins triathlons, not World Cup matches.

Postecoglou also said, truthfully, that Australia lacked composure in the final third, and that is where the goals are scored.

He said it was "probably too safe at times" there.

That is an accusation never made of Neymar or Brailian taxi drivers.

At very least, Australia honoured Tim Cahill's formulation that it should be a team no one will enjoy playing against.

Croatia made its displeasure known, which at half-time made for a peculiar sight: the referees surrounded by six police in riot gear, Croatian captain Dario Srjna hands indignantly aflutter.

It is problematic which was more confronting.

On this Postecoglou was brusque. "If they expected us not to touch them, they came with the wrong idea," he said.

How this will be received in a football culture that prizes the educated touch over the heavy remains to be seen.

It was a salutary day. In a little bar in that same side street in Salvador's old town, soccer flickered on two screens, the barman was amiable and his beer agreeable. But, as he served it, he warned an Australian visitor to do up the top button of his shirt, lest a little fake gold pendant on a necklace proved too glittering for his own good.

This is Brazil, and the World Cup, and world football, and, at any time, what you think is yours might be rudely snatched away.