Brazil may have given their fans the result they craved, but Croatia have every right to feel aggrieved after one of the worst penalty decisions seen in a World Cup. It could have been a far worse opening game, but the referee may have been suffering from the “Anfield factor” in giving Brazil a penalty and failing to see Fred’s theatrics.
Neymar won the day for Brazil and looked like he could be one of the stars of 2014, but some referees would have sent him packing for his foul on Luka Modric. Nishimura-san was very lenient, however, and a minute later, Neymar had equalised for Brazil. Earlier, Croatia had gone ahead when Marcelo put through his own goal, the first time the opening goal of the tournament has been an OG!
And that penalty! Ludicrous decision. But equally galling was Neymar’s technique, which showed that he will surely rival Cristiano Ronaldo in this competition as an irritant to opposition supporters. Sadly, although Croatian keeper Stipe Pletikosa did his best to thwart Neymar, the ball went in off his outstretched arms. A disallowed Croatian goal later and Oscar tamely rolled the ball home for the third goal.
What do we make of Brazil? Fred, Paulinho and Hulk were all disappointing, so Scolari may juggle his resources in the group games. Neymar will grow in confidence after his two goals. Croatia looked useful at times and they have a chance of getting out of the group. Their game with Mexico will be key.
Mexico v Cameroon (Natal)
After winning Olympic gold in 2012, Mexico were being tipped to be something of a force in world football, but it hasn’t worked out like that, despite coach Miguel Herrera’s belief that they can win the World Cup! Cameroon, meanwhile, will feature veteran centre forward Samuel Eto’o, despite the fact he’s been accused of “treason” for leading a players’ strike over bonuses. Mexico, who will be playing their 50th World Cup game, have never beaten an African side in the competition. They have met Cameroon just once before, in a 1993 friendly they won 1-0.
Spain v Netherlands (Salvador)
This is one of the games of the group stage and a repeat of the 2010 final – the first time that the previous finalists have met in the following competition’s first stage. Let’s hope that the Dutch don’t adopt a similar stance to this game given the strong-arm and anti-football tactics adopted by them in that game. It was most un-Dutch! Louis van Gaal has one eye on Old Trafford now, but his team is not good enough to make a big impact on this World Cup. Can they dent the Spain defence? – no-one has for 433 minutes of World Cup action. Spain and the Netherlands have met only 10 times down the years, with Spain winning five and the Dutch four.
Chile v Australia (Cuiaba)
Chile could be the darkest of dark horses – remember they beat England with some ease recently and they were only four points behind top-placed Argentina in the South American qualifiers, finishing above Uruguay. They have a pleasing attacking style and against Australia, they could get off to a flyer. In order to qualify, though, Chile will need to get a result from their clash with the Netherlands, which they are capable of doing. Chile and Australia have met four times over the years, but the Aussies have yet to win – their best performance was a 0-0 draw in the 1974 World Cup.
Six pointers for the sofa…
Men to watch: Arjen Robben (Netherlands), Diego Costa (Spain), Arturo Vidal (Chile)
Expect: Chile to surprise the commentators, continual stats on how many passes Spain have completed.
Likely scores: Mexico 1 Cameroon 1, Spain 1 Netherlands 0, Chile 3 Australia 0
Unlikely score: Chile 0 Australia 1
Count: How many times the Netherlands tactics in 2010 are mentioned and how often Old Trafford is name-checked when Van Gaal is in camera.
Most common camera shots: Louis van Gaal