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:
Rakitic made that happen with run down the left. Olic's low pass caused trouble,deflected off Jelavic's leg,Marcelo knocked it into own net.— Martin Rogers (@mrogersyahoo) June 12, 2014
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:
Neymar's equalizer wasn't a rocket, but the perfect placement was enough to get past the Croatian keeper. VIDEO: http://t.co/ij45qAKbD6— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 12, 2014
There are two ways of looking at the strike. Brian Phillips of Grantland provides the first viewpoint:
Neymar with the early candidate for most spectacular underwhelming mishit of the tournament.— Brian Phillips (@runofplay) June 12, 2014
Rob Stone of Fox Sports provides the second:
Placement > Power. #Neymar— Rob Stone (@RobStoneONFOX) June 12, 2014
For what it's worth, Neymar seemed to agree with both Phillips and Stone after the game, per Tancredi Palmeri of beIN Sports:
Neymar: "I shoot the first goal in that way on purpose, although didn't want it to be so weak"— Tancredi Palmeri (@tancredipalmeri) June 12, 2014
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:
How many billion people on this earth? And right now is there any question the happiest person of all, at this moment, is Marcelo?— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) June 12, 2014
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:
To all those hurling abuse at me for scoring an own goal, please re-direct your anger to @12MarceloV. Thank you— Marcello (@Marcello) June 12, 2014
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:
Oh dear. Terrible call on that penalty. Neymar converts the penalty, despite the stupid stutter-step run-up. Brazil squeaking by today.— Michael Cummings (@MikeCummings37) June 12, 2014
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:
1 - Neymar is the first Brazilian to score a penalty in a #WorldCup game since Ronaldinho vs China in 2002. Spot.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 12, 2014
2 - Neymar is the first player to score 2+ goals on his #WorldCup debut since David Villa for Spain vs Ukraine on June 14 2006. Impact.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 12, 2014
Impressed? ESPN Stats and Info has more that might make you double take:
Neymar's 7th multi-goal game for Brazil Brazil's 32nd brace, the most in World Cup history (Germany 23).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 12, 2014
Oh, we're not done. Paul Carr of ESPN puts Neymar's young international career into perspective:
Neymar now has 33 int'l goals, tying Ronaldinho and Jairzinho for 7th-most in Brazil history.— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) June 12, 2014
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:
When Neymar scored the go-ahead goal, a Brazilian bar in Newark, NJ, went nuts. https://t.co/RGm9ah8qSE— ESPN (@espn) June 12, 2014
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...
Neymar named Man of the Match by FIFA (and by SBI). My pick was Oscar, had a hand in all three goals, all over the field. World class.— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) June 12, 2014
...and Matteo Bonetti of beIN Sports...
Man of the match is Oscar, not Neymar. That falsified penalty changed entire course of match. Have to feel sorry for Croatia.— Matteo Bonetti (@TheCalcioGuy) June 12, 2014
...and Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated...
FT Brazil 3:1 Croatia. WC favorites come back from horrible start to win but take advantage of game-changing soft penalty. Oscar my MoM.— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) June 12, 2014
...and Juan Arango of The Telegraph...
Oscar without a doubt.... the MOTM...— Juan Arango (@JuanG_Arango) June 12, 2014
...and Jonathan Wilson of The Blizzard...
That's a genuinely brilliant goal from Oscar, Brazil's best player tonight.— Jonathan Wilson (@jonawils) June 12, 2014
...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.