It wasn't always pretty. In fact, at times it was downright controversial. But Brazil opened their World Cup as hosts by earning a 3-1 win over Croatia.
And in the process, no three players made a bigger impact on the game than Marcelo, Neymar and Oscar (though flopping Fred could make a case, too—more on him later).
Things did not start well for Brazil and Marcelo. After a sluggish start to the match and a shaky opening few minutes for Brazil's defense, Croatia opened the scoring in the 11th minute.
Well, more accurately, Marcelo opened the scoring with an own goal. From Bleacher Report UK:
To be fair to Marcelo, he was really unlucky, as the ball hit his front foot while he attempted to flick the ball away with his other. And Croatia deserved some credit for putting together a strong move, as Martin Rogers of Yahoo! Sports acknowledged:
But lest you think Marcelo's fate is now to be the next Barbosa, living a life of infamy all due to one moment, Brazil would come back and equalise. And who else but Neymar?
Here's his goal, via SportsCenter on Twitter:
There are two ways of looking at the strike. Brian Phillips of Grantland provides the first viewpoint:
Rob Stone of Fox Sports provides the second:
For what it's worth, Neymar seemed to agree with both Phillips and Stone after the game, per Tancredi Palmeri of beIN Sports:
That tally was a relief for the entire team, of course. Heck, it felt like a sigh of relief rippled throughout the entire country of Brazil. But there was one man in particular who surely felt a sense of gratitude toward Neymar, as Michael Silver of NFL.com recognized:
One person who didn't feel much relief? A fellow named Marcello, who Twitter users incorrectly confused with Marcelo (because spelling is hard) and began abusing with nasty tweets. Marcello wasn't pleased:
And that, in a nutshell, is the Internet for you.
Of course, Neymar wasn't done. After Brazil were awarded a penalty for a "foul" on Fred in the box—translation: after Fred flopped in a shameful manner and should have gotten a yellow for simulation—Neymar stepped up to the spot.
His attempt nearly didn't go in, as goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa guessed correctly and got two hands on the effort, but Neymar got enough juice on his shot to find the back of the net on a deflection anyway.
Michael Cummings of Bleacher Report wasn't a fan of Neymar's take:
But a brace is a brace, and it only added to Neymar's incredible international career. Welcome to the stats portion of this article!
We start with OptaJoe:
Impressed? ESPN Stats and Info has more that might make you double take:
Oh, we're not done. Paul Carr of ESPN puts Neymar's young international career into perspective:
He's 22 years old, folks. What were you doing at 22?
While many folks lamented Fred's lame dive and the referee falling for it, Brazilian fans surely didn't care. Just check out the scene passed along by ESPN:
While Neymar's brace will earn him the majority of the plaudits, Oscar was absolutely brilliant for Brazil. His late toe-poke goal put the game away for the Brazilians and capped off what had been a stunning performance, as Squawka Football recapped:
So, was Oscar the Man of the Match? Not officially—that distinction went to Neymar—but plenty of folks on Twitter thought Oscar was the better player on the day. Like Ives Galarcep of Soccer By Ives...
...and Matteo Bonetti of beIN Sports...
...and Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated...
...and Juan Arango of The Telegraph...
...and Jonathan Wilson of The Blizzard...
...and, well, you get the point. Oscar was fantastic.
Brazil will certainly hope their next game is less shaky, less full of controversy and less lethargic at the beginning. Brazil didn't really seem like Brazil until Neymar got them on the board. Perhaps that relaxed them—they are under immense pressure, after all—but they must continue to improve if they are to win this tournament, as they are predicted to do.
Of course, if Neymar and Oscar continue to play like they did on Thursday, they'll be tough to beat—as long as Marcelo can keep the ball out of his own net, too.
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