Neymar vs. Croatia

Image: USA Today Sports

It has begun. The tournament that defines the landscape of international and world football for the next four years. The prize that nearly every country prides above all else, and one country hoping to erase a memory that still lingers after almost 64 years. A day where all the mindless and incessant talk changes from being 100% theoretical, to merely 90% theoretical. The World Cup is underway…and we could not be more excited!

For the first day of the World Cup, only one match was played. However, it genuinely felt like this may be one of the most important games that we will witness until after we have gotten beyond the group stages:

Croatia vs Brazil

While nearly every commentator and half-time pundit decried the lighthearted way in which Brazil had gotten warmed up, the host nation began the match looking weaker, slower, and less-focused than Croatia. Dani Alves looked mired in a sub-par Barcelona mire, and the rest of the team seemed uninterested in defending. A Marcelo own-goal only served to punctuate the opening stages of the game, and it seemed like the host nation was about to crumble into absolute madness. A madness that would further reveal problems with a country in peril, a madness that would further reveal the anger of an entire country, a madness that would erase the smile that is associated with Brazilian soccer, and a madness that could quickly erode the entirety of this tournament.

However, Neymar and Brazil decided to flip the script. A shot that, depending on which channel you watched the game on or who was seated next to you during the moment, should never have gone in, or started what could be the defining summer of Neymar’s young career. The goal seemed to give Brazil a foothold and a belief (or, just a reminder) that this is supposed to be their tournament to win. Sadly, the second goal will be exactly what ESPN and anyone hoping for soccer to grow would have hoped to avoid: a referee mistake punctuated by a blatant dive. Neymar’s typically odd run-up and some weak-handed goalkeeping later, the score had flipped.

Fred dives

GIF: Business Insider

For the next thirty minutes, Croatia seemed incredibly likely to tie everything up and put Group A into serious doubt. But, the power of the Brazilian crowd and an Oscar toe-poke proved to be the undoing for Croatia and the perfect beginning to Brazil’s march towards a sixth star.

For us, despite Neymar’s two goals, the player of this match was definitely Oscar. Constantly beating one, two, or even three defenders in the build-up to attacks while providing the width that Dani Alves would typically bring, Oscar seemed to be the only Brazilian player ready to play from the opening whistle.

While the weekend will bring significantly more matches and a bigger picture of what this Cup holds, the opening 90 minutes helped to begin the tournament in impressive fashion. We can only hope that the remainder of this tournament is capable of having half the drama in the rest of the matches that we were afforded to being with. The World Cup has begun in Brazil…and we could not be more excited!


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