Marcelo owes Neymar dinner—for the rest of his life.
Brazil's highly anticipated World Cup campaign on home soil got off to a nightmarish start when the Real Madrid left-back let a cross from Ivica Olic bounce off his foot into his own net.
But the magical young Barcelona winger responded with a brace—one from a penalty—and Oscar added late insurance to propel the Selecao to a 3-1 victory over Croatia Thursday.
While there was plenty of controversy involved in the game-deciding penalty call, it was a scintillating opener indicative of the next month of football the world will get to witness.
Updated Group Standings
|2014 World Cup Group Standings|
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|2014 World Cup Odds|
Note: Odds courtesy of OddsShark
The hosts entered as favorites to hoist the World Cup trophy in Rio de Janeiro, and they remain as such after taking three important points. However, Luiz Felipe Scolari's squad showed some chinks in the armor Thursday night.
A slow start from Brazil was the result of shoddy defending. Croatia was finding a lot of space out wide in the first 15 minutes, and Dani Alves, who can be so dangerous bombing forward, was out of position on the cross that resulted in the own goal.
Goal.com's Ives Galarcep put it simply:
Another problem is the lack of a true out-and-out striker up front. It was a well-publicized issue leading up to the start of the tournament, but many believed Fred, who was so good during the Confederations Cup, would be a fine solution.
On Thursday, that wasn't the case.
Although he drew a penalty (more on that later), the 30-year-old Fluminense striker struggled to complete passes and was mostly non-existent. According to WhoScored.com, he recorded fewer touches (20) than goalkeeper Julio Cesar (24).
He was about one step away from going on a milk carton, as comedian Jim Daly joked:
Still, three points is three points, and Brazil displayed plenty of positives.
After the rocky start, they showed resiliency, which they will surely need at some point down the road. They controlled the majority of the possession after falling behind, and Neymar eventually equalized in the 29th minute.
Oscar came away the ball after a scrum in the midfield and intelligently dumped the ball to the 22-year-old in space. While he didn't seem to connect with the ball squarely, Neymar slotted it perfectly into the corner past goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa.
Following the match, he talked about the shot, via beIN Sports' Tancredi Palmeri:
Although his second goal wasn't fully deserved—it was the result of an atrocious dive inside the box from Fred—it should do wonders for his confidence going forward. It also put him in the record books, per Opta Sports:
While Neymar will get much of the attention, though, Oscar was the man of the match.
Not only did he score Brazil's third goal with a wonderful finish on the counter-attack, but he was at the center of every positive move forward.
Playing on the right with Neymar as the No. 10, he tallied two accurate crosses, four accurate long balls, one accurate through ball, three key passes and seven successful dribbles, per WhoScored.com.
He was also given a perfect match rating of 10 from the site, and if he continues to play like he did, Brazil's lack of a dominant striker won't be a problem.
Overall, while this was an uneven performance from Brazil, it was a 3-1 victory over a solid Croatia side when they were far from their best. They should frighten the rest of the world.