BRAZIL 3-1 CROATIA (WORLD CUP GROUP A)
World Cup hosts Brazil got their campaign off to the perfect start with a 3-1 victory over Croatia in Sao Paulo but their performance certainly left a lot to be desired.
Brazil boss Luis Felipe Scolari chose to go with Paulinho over Fernandinho and Ramires in midfield while Croatia boss Niko Kovac fielded a midfield trio of Mateo Kovacic, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic which made many on Twitter a little too excited. Sime Vrsaljko was pressed into duty at left back instead of Danijel Pranjic while Nikica Jelavic replaced the suspended Mario Mandzukic up front.
Kovac had said in his pre-game press conference that his side would not sit back and they certainly began with a purpose. An early throw in gained in an advanced position fell to Kovacic in a bit of space 25 yards out. His half volley went harmlessly wide but it was a big statement of intent from the Croatians and they continued in that vein.
While Brazil kept possession in the middle third with real ease, they struggled to get any further and were looking very susceptible on the break and from one of those breaks, Ivica Olic had a great opportunity to score. The ball was played out to the right hand side for Ivan Perisic and the Wolfsburg man did well to get it onto his left foot and swing in a lovely cross to the back post. Olic was completely unmarked as Dani Alves went to sleep but the other Wolfsburg man in the Croatian team could only head the ball wide. It was a massive warning for the hosts and one they didn’t heed which they paid for after 11 minutes.
A Brazilian attack broke down on the right in the Croatian half and Rakitic brought the ball forward. He knocked it past the committed Paulinho in the centre of the field for Olic on the left who burst past Thiago Silva. Olic sent in a low cross for Jelavic who had managed to get in front of David Luiz at the near post. The Hull striker couldn’t get a solid contact on the ball but he did enough to put off Marcelo who couldn’t sort his feet out and could only watch as the ball rolled into his own net. It was a horrible start for the hosts and the Sao Paulo crowd was stunned.
The Brazilian response was a good one once they got over the shock of conceding. Oscar – playing on the right wing – sent a ball into Paulinho who burst into the area and stung the palms of Stipe Pletikosa in the Croatian goal. Minutes later, Neymar got past Rakitic on the right byline but his low cross was cleared from the danger area. However, it fell perfectly for Oscar on the edge of the area but his first time left footed effort was beaten away by Pletikosa. Brazil were knocking on the door and were soon level despite nearly getting caught out again.
Rakitic played a ball into Perisic in the area who was allowed to work a crossing situation for himself on the left. He hung it up at the back post for Jelavic who got above Marcelo and headed it at Julio Cesar with Olic well placed in the middle. It proved costly as Cesar distributed it quickly to Luiz Gustavo who gave it to Oscar. He got into some trouble in the middle of the park but some weak Croatian tackles and battling from the Chelsea man saw Neymar come away with the ball. He had space to run into and wasn’t closed down so hit a left foot shot from 25 yards. It wasn’t the cleanest hit in the world but it was just out of Pletikosa’s reach and found its way into the back of the net via the post. It was a massive relief for the hosts and a desperately needed one at that.
The rest of the first half was an even affair with both sides seeing plenty of the ball but neither able to find that killer final ball. Still, it was an entertaining game and at half time, many had hope that it would continue. The second half began in much the same vein but with Brazil starting to pen the Croatians back a little more. Niko Kovac’s men were solid in defence and easily dealt with any and all Brazilian attacks but almost shot themselves in the foot midway through the second half.
Vedran Corluka had possession just inside his own half and with Neymar closing him down, he played a panicked and poor ball inside to Rakitic. Neymar pounced on it before Rakitic could react but instead of making good on the space afforded him, the Barcelona striker was chopped down 30 yards from goal by Corluka. The Croatian defender got a yellow for his tough tackle but that was his only punishment as Alves’ free kick was about half a yard over. The Brazilians were pushing and they finally got in front with 20 minutes to go thanks to some generous refereeing.
Brazil managed to work a low cross into the box for Fred – who had been anonymous until that point – with his back to goal. The striker went down in the area under pressure from Dejan Lovren and the referee gave the penalty, incensing the Croatians who surrounded him. The replays showed that Lovren gave Fred’s arm a light pull but the striker had gone down very, very easily indeed and should have been cautioned for diving. Still, the Brazilians had the chance to get in front and Neymar stepped up. The Barcelona man hit his penalty poorly but, despite Pletikosa getting both hands on it, it squeezed home. It was an undeserved lead for the hosts but one they celebrated anyway.
The Croatians instantly pushed forward with renewed effort after the injustice and just seconds after the restart, Perisic’s low cross was turned over his own bar by Luiz. It was the PSG bound defender who had the chance to kill the game not long after that though. A short corner on the left was worked out to Oscar on the right, who got past Olic before delivering an outstanding cross. Luiz threw himself at it but couldn’t guide it in from five yards on the stretch and actually took it away from Neymar at the back post who was better placed to score. They almost paid for that miss minutes later.
Croatia worked the ball forward and, while Rakitic went down on the edge of the area, Sime Vrsaljko never gave up down the left. The full back got to the ball and sent over a hanging cross first time which was a tough one for Cesar to judge. The keeper looked to have it before Olic bundled into him and headed it back for substitute Ante Rebic whose shot was blocked into the path of Perisic who scored from ten yards. The whistle had already gone however for a foul by Olic on the keeper which, despite Croatia protestations, was the correct call.
The Croatians kept pushing forward and were now testing Cesar in the Brazil goal. Modric forced a save from the QPR keeper with a low shot from distance before Corluka headed wide from a good position. Perisic then had a shot from distance that troubled Cesar into a poor save which Luiz had to bail him out of with a good block on Rebic’s follow up. The Croatians were pushing but were eventually caught out on the break.
Modric dallied on the ball in the centre of the park for too long and he was robbed by Brazilian sub Ramires. His tackle got the ball for Oscar who drove at the heart of the Croatian defence. The Chelsea man then toe poked an effort from the edge of the box which found its way past Pletikosa and into the bottom corner. It was another undeserved goal but one that secured all three points for the hosts.
Marcelo Brozovic’s wild effort from 30 yards summed up the disappointment for Croatia late on and they fell to a very harsh defeat in this game. Brazil certainly looked weak defensively and, with the exception of Neymar, lacking creativity and attacking threat. The Croatians look set for a good showing in Brazil if they continue to perform like this and that has to be encouraging for Niko Kovac moving forward.
Brazil: Cesar, Alves, Silva (c), Luiz, Marcelo, Gustavo, Paulinho (Hernanes 63), Oscar, Neymar (Ramires 88), Hulk (Bernard 68), Fred
Subs: Jefferson, Fernandinho, Dante, Maxwell, Henrique, Willian, Jo, Victor, Maicon
Goal: Neymar, Oscar
Yellow: Neymar, Gustavo
Croatia: Pletikosa, Srna (c), Lovren, Corluka, Vrsaljko, Modric, Rakitic, Perisic, Kovacic (Brozovic 61), Olic, Jelavic (Rebic 78)
Subs: Pranjic, Vukojevic, Zelenika, Schildenfeld, Badelj, Sammir, Vida, Eduardo, Subasic
Goal: Own Goal
Yellow: Corluka, Lovren
MAN OF THE MATCH: NEYMAR (BRAZIL)