As seen in the beginning of the game at the 11-minute mark, Brazil’s defense seemed sluggish and lazy, allowing an own goal off the foot of Marcelo Vieira, putting Croatia on top of the host team. Fortunately for the defensive backs, Neymar was able to bail them out by precisely putting a ball past Stipe Pletikosa in the 29th and 71st minute. On many occasions during the first half, Dani Alves and Marcelo allowed through balls to get past on both sides, paving the way for crosses to enter the box. Ivan Perisic and Ivica Olic are easily beating Marcelo and Alves as was shown on the own goal early in the match.
However, Brazil’s strong attacking mindset left its defense vulnerable to counterattack, which gave Croatia a 5-on-3 advantage. It seems adjustments were made by head coach Luiz Felipe Scolari in the second half. Nerves and first-game jitters soon were calmed after Neymar’s first goal and it took only 45 minutes for the host team to settle in. Both Marcelo and Dani Alves played better in the second half and it is comforting to know that the two center-backs, David Luiz and Thiago Silva, played strong the whole 90 minutes.
The 71st minute proved quite questionable where head referee Yuichi Nishimura calls a mysterious foul on Dejan Lovren in the box allowing Neymar to take advantage of a penalty kick. Taking a look back at the replay, one can tell that Fred took a page out of LeBron James’ book by flopping at the mere sight of contact. Another controversial call marred Croatia’s potential comeback when another mysterious foul was called on Ivica Olic in the 84th minute — it was a chance on which Croatia would have capitalized. To add insurance, Brazil’s Oscar added a late goal to make the game 3-1.
Brazil has a long way to go if they want to remain the favorite to win the World Cup. Although this was not the result that Brazil hoped for at the beginning of the game, they will surely walk away feeling somewhat accomplished. Neymar proved to be the right man for the job as he took advantage of his various opportunities in the match. In order for Brazil to last in the tournament, the left and right backs will need to improve. Fred and Oscar did their jobs by being active in the box, getting shots on goal when needed. Oscar’s stat line of one goal and one assist makes him my player of the match and establishes himself as a necessary complement to Neymar in the midfield.
Croatia’s lack of a pure goal scorer put the team at risk from the beginning whistle. The upside is the team will have Mario Mandzukic returning in the June 18 match against a strong Cameroon team. Mandzukic will need to have a domineering presence as soon as he steps on the field in order to lead Croatia to three points and a chance to move on to the knockout stage. With Mandzukic returning, it will allow the midfield of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, and Mateo Kovacic to spread out and work the ball into the box where the dangerous Mandzukic can flourish. Croatia, although losing this game will be a small setback, will need to gain positive results against Mexico and Cameroon to have any chance in advancing.
Nobody said the World Cup was going to be easy. Each and every game is a crap-shoot and anything is absolutely possible. Everybody loves an underdog and despite this result, I would not be so quick to count out Croatia.
Collin Ruby is a Soccer Writer for RantSports.com, follow him on Twitter @Collin_Ruby