World Cup: winning thrill for Brazil
World Cup tournament and hosts Brazil could hardly have got off to a better start than a to-and-fro opening match with four goals, plenty of controversy and victory for the home fans to celebrate.PT4M5S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-3a1ia 620 349 June 13, 2014
At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, Brazilians flock to the beach. Dressed in white, they jump over seven waves to bring good luck and peace for the year to follow.
At the Arena de Sao Paulo, heroes in yellow shirts tentatively jumped the first wave in the opening match of the World Cup, but they will need to jump the next six with greater conviction if they are to win their sixth title, on home soil.
Two-goal hero: Neymar. Photo: AP
|View Match Statistics|
|Players||Marcelo (11' mins), Neymar (29' mins), Neymar (71' mins), Oscar (90' mins)||Scorers||Scorers||Players|
“There are seven steps,” Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said on the eve of the match against Croatia. "We have to go up those seven steps but to start we have to think of the first step. We can't jump the seven steps.”
The 3-1 win was unconvincing. It was marred in refereeing controversy. And it was only sealed when Oscar scored against the run of play in stoppage time as Croatia peppered Brazilian keeper Julio Cesar, coming desperately close to scoring an equaliser.
Above anything else, the match illuminated what most already know: Brazil’s reliance on their leading man, Neymar.
Big moment: referee Yuichi Nishimura of Japan awards Brazil a contentious penalty. Photo: Reuters
When Neymar scores, a nation’s heart explodes.
He scored twice in this match: an equaliser in the first half right on dusk after Brazil had inexplicably conceded an early goal, and then a questionable penalty as the chill set in that only just beat Croatian keeper Stipe Pletikosa.
"It was better than I thought,” Neymar said afterwards. “I was hoping that we'd win, but to be able to debut in a World Cup with a brace is an immeasurable joy.”
Oscar celebrates scoring the third goal. Photo: Reuters
On both occasions, the goals not only sparked wild celebration in the stadium but fireworks outside of it.
They came from the nearby favelas, which houses Brazil’s poorest families, and it underlined the significance of this World Cup for them as much as any of the national side’s outrageously paid players.
A constellation of footballing superstars has gathered in Brazil, but there are two who many believe have the outcome of it at their feet.
World Cup 2014: Brazil v Croatia highlights
Brazil's Fred is fouled by Croatia's Dejan Lovren inside the area for a penalty. Photo: Reuters
One is Argentina’s Lionel Messi. The other is his Barcelona teammate, the precocious 22-year-old with the spiked mullet straight from a 1980s music video but with unmistakable style everywhere else.
Neymar has drawn comparisons to other great Brazilian players in his relative short career.
He wears the famed No.10 shirt of Pele, the world’s greatest player alongside Maradona although don’t mention that to anyone here there’s any dispute or you could lose a kidney. His trickery with his feet has been compared to that of Ronaldinho.
Neymar is also a national distraction.
With a national holiday declared in Sao Paulo on Thursday, the normally clogged streets of the mega city were eerily calm.
The exception, of course, was the violent protests 13km from the stadium earlier in the day, in which police used tear gas to quell the mob and three journalists were left bloodied and broken.
Despite this, it became evident as you edged closer to the stadium where most of the 22 million people who inhabit this massive city were: on the street, standing next to their brother or sister or best friend, wearing a yellow shirt, holding a drink in one hand and a horn in the other.
Inside, most of the crowd of 62,103 - 3000 less than capacity - was bathed in yellow, with the exception of a pocket of Croatian supporters in red and white.
In the 11th minute, those in yellow weren’t so much silenced but stunned when Marcelo conceded an own goal.
Croatia could’ve scored earlier when a Ivica Olic header went wide. This time, midfielder Nikica Jelavic overran a cross, it clipped his heal and Marcelo barely had time to react as he accidentally slotted the opening goal of the tournament.
After attracting a yellow card for an errant elbow to the throat of Croatia’s Luka Modric, Neymar scored the equaliser but the seminal moment of the match came in the second half.
Referee Yuichi Nishimura was a controversial appointment, and his decision to award a penalty after a theatrical fall from Fred in the box following a sedate challenge from Croatia’s Dejan Lovren changed the course of the match.
Neymar’s shot was less convincing, with Pletikosa getting a hand to it, but it didn’t matter to the crowd.
Neymar is adored in Brazil, and some believe it's because he didn’t leave for the big dollars in Europe in his mid-teens, preferring to play in the Brazilian league for Santos FC.
Messi's early move to Barcelona created a disconnect, some argue, with Argentinian fans.
While they are only separated by four years in age, the pair comes into this tournament at different stages of their World Cup careers.
Messi is trying to leave a legacy here in Brazil.
He will have his opportunity to respond on Monday morning (AEST) when Argentina opens its campaign at Brazilian football’s spiritual home, the Maracana.
"Hopefully I can play Neymar in the final,” Messi has declared.
It's a mouth-watering thought, but with many waves for both sides left to jump.