On the opening day of the 2014 World Cup, the host nation of Brazil delivered perhaps the least impressive 3-1 win in World Cup history against Croatia. The final score line will have you believe that the Brazilians won comfortably, but nothing could be further from the truth, and if Brazil doesn’t show considerable improvement by the end of the Group Stage, they could easily get knocked out in the Round of 16.
Despite a lot of fanfare and a lot of excitement surrounding the tournament’s opening match, the Brazilians came out with little energy at the start of the game, which played a part in the own goal that put the Croatians up 1-0 early in the game. Brazil would go on to score three goals and win the match, but none of the three goals were particularly impressive. Neymar’s first goal was quite lucky on a shot he mishit; Neymar’s second goal came on a penalty kick following an atrocious call by the match official; and the third goal was a toe poke that never should have happened after a non-call by the official.
Rarely did it seem like the Brazilians were in control of the game, and rarely did they have the Croatian team on its heels for extended periods of time. Instead, it was the Croatians that looked impressive, pushing hard for a late equalizer before Oscar’s toe-poke goal. The Brazilian fans will be excited about the result, but there’s no way that coach Luiz Felipe Scolari will be pleased with the performance of his team.
The danger for Brazil is that they can get away with lackluster performances during the Group Stage. Even if they have another unimpressive effort against Mexico and Cameroon in their next two matches, the Brazilians will likely end up winning all three matches of the Group Stage. However, Brazil will play Spain, Netherlands, or Chile in the Round of 16, and they aren’t likely to survive against any of those teams if they play the way they did against Croatia.
The Brazilians don’t need to show a sense of urgency in order to make it out of the Group Stage, but they still need to get their act together during its next two matches. If the hosts don’t show improvement and find their stride by the time the Group Stage comes to an end, they will put themselves in grave danger of going out in the Round of 16, which is what will happen if they continue to perform the way they did in the opener.