Thursday served as an all-too-frightening reminder for the rest of the world: Even when they are far from their zenith, Brazil are still extremely dangerous.
Unsurprisingly, Luiz Felipe Scolari's side entered as World Cup favorites. They romped through the 2013 Confederations Cup and are on home soil, where they haven't lost a competitive match in nearly 40 years.
That seemingly unwavering confidence went rushing out of Arena Corinthians like air out of a popped balloon when Marcelo's own goal put Brazil behind just 11 minutes into the opener Thursday, but Neymar and Oscar quickly came to the rescue.
Barcelona's magician netted a terrific brace in his World Cup debut, while Chelsea's sometimes forgotten star reminded the world of his brilliance with endless creativity and the match-sealing goal in the 90th minute.
Therein was the theme of the match: Brazil's defense—shaky; Neymar and Oscar—so good it didn't matter.
Let's start with the bad.
In the first 15 minutes, Croatia was able to get pretty much whatever they wanted down the sidelines. Although Dani Alves is dangerous on the attack, he often gets caught bombing too far forward. That happened twice in the early moments, and the second time allowed Ivica Olic a free cross into the box, which forced Marcelo's mis-step and the first goal of the World Cup.
Alves wasn't the only problem, as The Mirror's Jack Lang argued:
It was lazy defending on the goal, and while they cleaned things up a bit going forward, Brazil nearly conceded again on a couple of occasions down the stretch. They must be better in the back.
But that wasn't the only problem. Scolari's side entered the World Cup without a reliable out-and-out striker, and Fred reaffirmed those beliefs. He was nearly invisible for the entire night—according to WhoScored.com, he had fewer touches than goalkeeper Julio Cesar—and the only time he made an impact was on a horrendous flop in the box that earned Neymar his second goal.
Opta Sports' Duncan Alexander put it best:
Inconsistent defending, poor performances from Paulinho and Fred and a few nearly costly miscues from Julio Cesar in the final minutes, yet Brazil beat a good Croatia side by two goals, controlled 61 percent of possession and fired off 14 shots.
All thanks to a pair of 22-year-old midfielders.
Playing in the No. 10 role, Neymar had two goals—one perfectly placed shot to the corner of the goal and one sizzling penalty—while Oscar, in a more orthodox winger role to the right, was at the center of every positive move forward. He assisted Neymar's first goal, continued to whip crosses in, took on defenders with ease and scored the final goal with a cheeky toe punch.
Scolari, via FIFA.com, praised the Chelsea man:
Our statistics after the game shows he was the one who made the most tackles, and made lots of dribbles and crosses - he was our most creative player on the right.
He was fantastic and that's the kind of player he is and I have always believed in him. Any doubts came from your side [the media]. His level may have dropped but I never lost belief in him.
ZonalMarking.Net's Michael Cox added to the applause:
Together, the duo completed 13 successful dribbles while the rest of the squad had a combined 10. They dished out five key passes while the rest of the squad had a combined four. Their creativity was marvelous, and they completely opened up the game for Brazil.
Was it a complete team effort from Selecao? Not even close. Were there problems that need fixing going forward? Absolutely.
But as long as Selecao's talismanic young duo continues to link up and transcend those problems, Brazil will remain favorites—both for the World Cup and for the tournament's most electrifying attacking team—at home.
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