The 2014 World Cup got off to a somewhat predictable start, with the plucky underdogs of Croatia being cast aside by the right-at-home juggernaut that is Brazil. Well, sort of. The first half was an even affair, with Brazil enjoying the greater possession, but Croatia providing a considerable threat on the counter attack.
The opening goal for Croatia wasn't a total shock, based on the opening proceedings. The eventually tireless Oscar was proving wasteful early on, leading to the chequered stripes finding joy down Brazil's right flank. Ivica Olic, the work-horse recently linked with Stoke, broke free down the left and sent a teasing cross where a mishit shot from Nikica Jelavic found its way to goal via a key deflection off Marcelo. David Luiz was also at fault for allowing Jelavic to even make contact, but Marcelo will go down in history as the first Brazilian ever to score an own-goal in a World Cup.
Thankfully for him, the luck evened itself out, as every Brazil goal had an element of good fortune about it, depending on which side you were rooting for. Neymar was arguably lucky to remain on the pitch after losing control of his arm, allowing it to slam into Luka Modric's face in the midst of a jostle for a header. Minutes later, he had found himself space for a shot, which he very slightly mishit yet still gave it the accuracy to beat the Croatia keeper Stipe Pletikosa, who could perhaps have done better.
The remainder of the first half played out with Brazil enjoying possession, and Croatia happy to hang on for the break. The second half continued in this vein, although as the action wore on, the Europeans were growing more and more assured. Cue of course an unexpected and undeserved penalty. Fred went down under the slightest touch from Croat defender Dejan Lovren and gave Neymar the opportunity to score his 33rd Brazil goal, still at the tender age of 22. And score he did, despite Pletikosa getting more than a decent hand to it after a stuttered run-up. Two arguably fortunate goals and Brazil were on the way to victory.
Olic's arguably soft challenge on Julio Cesar was what stopped what looked like a perfectly good equaliser, as Croatia began to up the ante. Croatia had shown flashes of potential throughout the game, with Modric and Ivan Rakitic, the new Barcelona recruit, causing the Brazil defence a number of problems. David Luiz made a number of key interceptions and tackles, and Luis Gustavo put in a warrior-like shift in front of the back four, but Ivan Perisic was a brilliant Julio Cesar save away from rescuing a deserved point for Croatia.
Instead, as stoppage time began, Brazil went straight up the other end, with Oscar making another one of his lung-bursting runs before toe-poking a hopeful yet well-placed effort inexplicably beyond Pletikosa, who should have dealt with it.
So 3-1 it ended, and with Neymar lucky to remain on the pitch, Brazil can see themselves lucky to have chalked up their first win. Other than lively substitute Bernard, an admittedly hard-working side was somewhat blunt in attack. Croatia, were it not for some strange referee decisions and some slow goalkeeping reactions, could have earnt at least a point. On this evidence they will surely progress, with Mexico and Cameroon still to play, but there is now little room for error.
Brazil on the other hand can already consider themselves with one foot in the last 16, as Neymar staked an early claim for both the player of the tournament and the golden boot.