This FIFA World Cup campaign is supposed to be a triumphal march to a sixth world title for the home side. 11 minutes into Brazil’s opening match on Thursday against Croatia, it started with a nightmare. Brazil fell behind early as Marcelo tapped a cross from Ivica Olic past Julio Cesar and into his own net, putting Croatia up 1-0 early in the match.
But Neymar would make his mark felt 18 minutes later, dribbling through the heart of the Croatian defense before pinging a goal off the far post past Stipe Pletikosa for the tying goal. The score would stand at 1-1 at the intermission.
After the break, Brazil continued to press forward hunting for the go-ahead score. Their fortunes turned thanks to a controversial call by Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura, who not only pointed to the penalty spot after Fred fell down in the box on the faintest of challenges but also pulled a yellow card on Dejan Lovren for the “tackle”. Neymar converted the penalty for his second goal of the match, his hard shot caroming off the gloves of Pletikosa and into the net. The goalkeeper guessed correctly, but the power in the spot kick carried it over the line and Brazil had a dubious 2-1 lead.
Croatia appeared to tie up the match in the 81st minute, with Olic rising to beat Julio Cesar to a cross. Hitting the header into the net, the Croatians celebrated — only to have the referee’s assistant whistle for a foul on Olic despite his arms being down and Julio Cesar contributing to the contact.
It was Croatia’s last chance to tie the match, as Oscar took advantage of a breakdown in Croatia’s defenses just as the clock ticked into stoppage time. Pouncing on a lazy pass, Oscar burst through the center of the pitch and uncorked a low shot that beat a diving Pletikosa to the near post. The insurance goal boosted Brazil’s goal differential on a night when they looked like the worse of the two teams for much of the match.
World Cup play continues for each team next week, as Brazil faces Mexico on Tuesday and Croatia takes on Cameroon the following day.