Brazil 3 - Croatia 1
Neymar 29', Neymar 71' (pen), Oscar 91'
Marcelo 11' (o.g)
With allegations of corruption surrounding the selection process for the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, FIFA should have been looking for an opening match which was free from futher controversy. Unfortunately, controversy had booked a ticket to the very first match of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and was not only rearing its ugly head, it was actively barracking and cheering.
Tactically, both sides went into this fixture with a 4-5-1 formation, perhaps hoping to force the other into some sort of mistake. I would tend to suggest that at Brazil '14, we can probably expect to see mainly 4-5-1s and 5-4-1s as teams prefer to not lose as opposed to try and win. Only teams with no real chance will probably buck that trend.
The first thing I noticed even before a ball was kicked, was that the tradition of Brazillian stage names is alive and well. The problem is that after 84 years of World Cups, all the good names appear to have been exhausted.
Sure, there's Paulinho and Marcelo but with names like Jo, Maxwell, Victor, Willian, Bernard and Fred, are they even trying any more?
Again there's Fernandinho but how long is it before we can expect Ronaldinho McDonaldinho com a sua el classico Grandé Mac et McChickinho?
Amusingly though, there's The Un-Incredible Hulk who instead of smashing stuff when he decides to have a ragequit, just falls over and demands a penalty.
The crowd in this match was silenced 11 minutes in when a perfectly weighted Croation cross into the box, found Marcelo unsighted and with a limp left foot, he perfectly batted the ball into his own goal to put the hosts 1-0 down.
Just before the half hour, Neymar's hopeful strike from 25 yards away lifted Brazil, who at that stage although played with sublime skill, lacked any real sense of direction.
However it was 71 minutes in that gave us what we'd all feared would happen when everyone in the whole world except referee Yuichi Nishimura saw that Dejan Lovren got the lightest of hand touches on Fred who hurled himself at the ground with the sort of dive that will probably win a bronze medal at the Olympics in Rio in two years' time.
I'm going to come out and say that this sort of thing will conspire to produce a Brazil-Argentina final. When the outcome of a match is swung on the hinges of only a few key moments and they happen to be as the result of a referees' decision and that decision is influenced by shadowy controllers upstairs, what else are we supposed to think?
Croatia appeared to be visibly on top both before and after this incident and this prompted them to play even higher up the pitch; in an effort to try and grab an equaliser which they never have should have been forced to do in the first place. Brazil sat back and contained the next 20 minutes of barrage until into extra time, they found a break out and because Croatia had been playing so far up the pitch, Oscar found himself in a one on one with the flailing Croatian keeper, Pletikosa, and duly slotted one past him from 19 yards away.
The match probably was worth a Brazil win but when matches and tournaments have tempos and attitudes which rise and fall depending on the referee, it does really bring into question the integrity of FIFA as a whole; especially considering that FIFA answers to no-one.
As for Brazil itself, it hasn't necessarily played as attractive football as say Spain or Argentina will, but it is entirely functional and they will be very hard to beat at home (and they'll have help).
During the 2014 World Cup, I probably won't write that many match reviews. I'll say up front that as an England fan, I'll follow them all the way to the Quarter Finals, where they'll be knocked out on penalties. I'll be amused as the Grauniad, the Express and the Daily Mail all splash news reports with begrudging cynicism, then wild optimism invoking the spirit of 1966, before heaping scorn on the England side as it fails at yet another world cup.
As for Australia, I expect that they lose 4-0 against Chile, 8-0 against the Netherlands and 8-0 against Spain. Especially publications like The Daily Telegraph, just don't seem to appreciate the fact Australia is the most minnowy team at this tournament; that is because unlike Rubgy League or Australian Rules football, the Football World Cup is for a sport which most of the world actually plays.