Even before the kick off of the World Cup opener between hosts Brazil and Croatia in South Paulo on Thursday in a stirring moment the packed house continued singing the national anthem long after the music had stopped. It was a glimpse of the level of expectation and emotion associated with the first World Cup in Sambaland since 1950.
Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari opted to play the same starting line-up that featured in last year’s 3-0 Confederations Cup final victory against Spain, thereby sticking with then out-of-sorts midfielder Oscar, who eventually proved to be more than a handful for the Croatians.
Neymar (left) scores Brazil's second goal from the penalty spot during their Group A match against Croatia in the Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo. Pic/AP/PTI.
Modric finds his groove
For Croatia, Nikica Jelavic played up front with Ivica Olic in the absence of suspended Bayern Munich striker Mario Mandzukic. Croatian skipper and talisman Luka Modric began slowly but got into the groove soon enough. Central midfielder Ivan Rakitic had an outstanding game right from the start as a nervy Brazil fell behind in the 11th minute when Marcelo made history by becoming the first Brazilian to put the ball into the back of his own net in a World Cup finals encounter. A sublime cross from Olic caught a back-peddling Marcelo unsighted.
Golden boy scores
The Samba stars however were not behind for too long as their golden boy Neymar struck just before the half-hour mark. A neat albeit weak left-footed shot from just out side the box brushed touched the inside of the far-right post before sneaking in to send the Corinthians Arena into a frenzy.
Roared on by the vociferous crowd, Brazil returned after the break with victory on their mind. And while Croatia looked good in patches with some neat counter-attacks, it is the hosts who went ahead thanks to a controversial penalty. Fred went down under the slightest of pressure from Croat Dejan Lovren and Korean referee Yuichi Nishimura immediately pointed to the spot. Neymar marked his 50th appearance for Brazil with a brace, beating Croatian ’keeper Stipe Pletikosa to his left for 2-1.
With the Croatians down, Oscar then got his name onto the scoresheet in stoppage time with a poke from distance to beat Pletikosa, this time at his near post. The Brazilian party has begun with a bang with fans hoping it ends on a victorious note in the final on July 13.
The writer is a former India vice-captain and striker