The host country Brazil got to celebrate early Thursday with a 3-1 victory over Croatia, but the game was much tighter than the two-goal deficit would suggest.
It was actually Croatia that jumped out to an initial lead after Brazil knocked in an own goal, much to the shock of the nervous fans in attendance. You could almost feel the breath get knocked out of the entire nation through the television screen.
However, Neymar led his squad back with two goals, the second of which came after a rather controversial penalty call in the box that set up the decisive penalty kick. Perhaps if Croatia had taken Grantland's Shane Ryan's advice after that initial goal, they would have been victorious:
Now's the time to do that formation where you have 11 people stand on each other pyramid style in front of the goal face, Croatia.— Shane Ryan (@ShaneRyanHere) June 12, 2014
While fans will certainly outcry over the penalty call that gave Brazil the lead, the important takeaway from this contest is that the home squad garnered the three points they were looking for from the start. ESPN Stats & Info painted the picture of Brazil dominance before the game, and this victory only served to extend the streak:
Brazil is unbeaten (15-0-2) in 17 straight World Cup openers, winning 8 in a row. Host nations are undefeated in World Cup openers (14-0-6).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 12, 2014
Brazil will have to play much better than that going forward though if it hopes to capture the World Cup title. The competition will be much stiffer than Croatia in the latter stages, and Croatia had plenty of chances to at least tie this contest in the final minutes before Brazil countered with a third goal in the final moments.
Now that one match is officially in the book, take a look at the updated group table and the initial fixture for every team in the World Cup.
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||0||0||0||0||0|
|Brazil vs. Croatia (Brazil wins 3-1)||Thursday, June 12|
|Mexico vs. Cameroon||Friday, June 13|
|Spain vs. Netherlands||Friday, June 13|
|Chile vs. Australia||Friday, June 13|
|Colombia vs. Greece||Saturday, June 14|
|Ivory Coast vs. Japan||Saturday, June 14|
|Uruguay vs. Costa Rica||Saturday, June 14|
|England vs. Italy||Saturday, June 14|
|Switzerland vs. Ecuador||Sunday, June 15|
|France vs. Honduras||Sunday, June 15|
|Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina||Sunday, June 15|
|Iran vs. Nigeria||Monday, June 16|
|Germany vs. Portugal||Monday, June 16|
|United States vs. Ghana||Monday, June 16|
|Belgium vs. Algeria||Tuesday, June 17|
|Russia vs. South Korea||Tuesday, June 17|
Day 2 Match To Watch
Spain vs. Netherlands
Don’t let Spain midfielder Javi Martinez’s comments fool you, this initial game for Spain and Netherlands is certainly a big one. Still Martinez brought some perspective, via The Guardian:
In 2010 we showed that if you lose the first game it’s not all over, but we want to get off to a winning start. To win the tournament you have to win as many games as possible, but in the last World Cup we showed that even after losing the first game, we wanted to get to the final.
The World Cup final between Spain and Netherlands from four years ago was dominated by physicality and intense defense. In fact, the two squads combined for 28 fouls and an astounding 14 yellow cards, nine of which went to Netherlands.
Spain finally broke through in extra time to break the scoreless tie thanks to the World Cup-winning strike from Andres Iniesta.
Spain is certainly on the short list of World Cup contenders after capturing the 2010 version and winning the past two European Championships as well. What’s more, they were unbeaten in the qualifying stages and looked like an absolute juggernaut at times.
As for Netherlands, they went out in the group stage of the 2012 European Championship but were still impressive in qualifying. The trio of Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben should be very familiar to soccer fans, but Netherlands is dealing with injuries elsewhere.
Look for one of those veterans to strike for the initial goal and set up some early tension for Spain, much like we saw in 2010. However, Spain’s superior depth and skill level will prove worthy over the 90 minutes.
Spain will score once before the end of the half to ease the minds of their fans and then use that momentum to strike again early in the second half.
From there, they will drop back on the defensive side and hang on for the 2-1 victory.
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