After a surprisingly close opening match, Day 1 of the 2014 World Cup ended as expected with a 3-1 victory for Brazil, changing little about the outlook of how the tournament will unfold.
The only question following the opener: What should we make of the Brazilian defense?
On one hand, it held up well in front of a raucous home crowd at Arena Corinthians. Croatia's lone tally in the match came off the foot of Brazil's Marcelo for an own goal; save for that miscue, Brazil were spotless on the scoreboard against the Croatian strikes.
Yet Brazil's victory did not come without controversy. Nikica Jelavic drew a yellow card for pulling down Fred in the box on what appeared to actually be a dive. Neymar connected on the ensuing penalty kick for his second goal of the match, turning an early 1-0 hole into a 2-1 lead.
That set up Brazil's third goal, which came off the foot of Oscar a minute into stoppage time as Brazil pushed the ball off a desperation charge by Croatia.
Brazil have taken the early lead in Group A, positioning themselves to run through the group and qualify for knockout play.
|2014 World Cup Group Standings|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||0||0||0||0||0|
|2014 World Cup Schedule—Each Team's First Match|
|Mexico vs. Cameroon||Mexico +110||June 13, 12 p.m.||Draw 1-1|
|Netherlands vs. Spain||Spain -125||June 13, 3 p.m.||Spain 3-1|
|Australia vs. Chile||Chile -250||June 13, 6 p.m.||Chile 2-0|
|Greece vs. Colombia||Colombia -125||June 14, 12 p.m.||Colombia 2-0|
|Costa Rica vs. Uruguay||Uruguay -250||June 14, 3 p.m.||Uruguay 3-1|
|Italy vs. England||Italy +170||June 14, 6 p.m.||Draw 2-2|
|Japan vs. Ivory Coast||Ivory Coast +155||June 14, 9 p.m.||Draw 1-1|
|Ecuador vs. Switzerland||Switzerland +145||June 15, 12 p.m.||Ecuador 2-1|
|Honduras vs. France||France -330||June 15, 3 p.m.||France 4-0|
|Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Argentina||Argentina -250||June 15, 6 p.m.||Argentina 3-0|
|Portugal vs. Germany||Germany +110||June 16, 12 p.m.||Germany 3-2|
|Nigeria vs. Iran||Nigeria +110||June 16, 3 p.m.||Draw 1-1|
|USA vs. Ghana||USA +170||June 16, 6 p.m.||Draw 1-1|
|Algeria vs. Belgium||Belgium -240||June 17, 12 p.m.||Belgium 2-0|
|South Korea vs. Russia||Russia +125||June 17, 6 p.m.||Russia 1-0|
|Times via FIFA.com; Odds via Odds Shark; Predictions by Josh Cohen|
Some of the world's best teams will take the same strong first step that the hosts did, but not all of them.
In Group D play, England and Italy will both trail Uruguay after their respective first matches. While Uruguay starts with the relative runt of the group in Costa Rica, England and Italy face each other.
With Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge and company facing the likes of Andrea Pirlo and Mario Balotelli, offense will be on full display, but these two squads both look ahead to must-win meetings with Uruguay following a draw.
In contrast, France have the easiest match of the first slate and should overpower Honduras without any trouble, while Argentina won't have to work much harder to dispatch Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Germany and Spain won't get such a casual welcome to World Cup play, facing Portugal and the Netherlands, respectively, but both football powers will come away with multi-goal victories.
Looking to a less starry showdown, one of the best betting values amongst the openers is Ecuador over Switzerland.
Running their attack through Antonio Valencia and Jefferson Montero on the wings, Ecuador were able to take down a potent Uruguay squad in qualifying for the World Cup. Meanwhile, it's a mystery how FIFA ranked Switzerland highly enough to be a seed; Vegas considers Ecuador the underdog, but an upset would not be much of a shock.
Lastly, bettors ought to stay away from the USA vs. Ghana match. There are just too many complicating factors in this matchup.
USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann is playing without Landon Donovan by choice and is saying—openly and repeatedly—to reporters that he doesn't think his team can win the Cup, as ESPN's Jeff Carlisle reports. Meanwhile, Jozy Altidore has regained his scoring form in recent national team play, and the USA looks to be finding its form.
On the other side, Ghana is every bit as tough as the team that knocked the USA out of the 2010 World Cup in extra time, and the 2006 tournament before that. Ghana's opponents have a different coach this time around, but without Donovan, it also appears to be a team playing for experience rather than for victory.
The Americans could exact vengeance for 2010 just as easily as Ghana could repeat that result. It's the kind of toss-up that doesn't even necessarily lend itself to a likely draw, so just forget betting on this one altogether.