Thursday, 12 June 2014

Neymar and Oscar Star As Brazil Survive Early Own Goal In World Cup 2014 Opener [Hilights+]

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This was a World Cup in just one game with brilliance, calamity and controversy. And, with it, Brazil had the victory they so desperately craved and could not possibly have dealt with being deprived; the tournament exploded into life.
They have a star also, the star they wanted, the star they cherish, with two goals from Neymar.
There was an own goal, a storm of emotion, and there was a bad taste as the Japanese referee, Yuichi Nishimura, awarded the penalty that should never have been given but which provided Brazil with their release.
In such a proud occasion that was a shameful moment even if Oscar gilded the occasion with a superb, late third goal – toe-poking from outside the area.
For Luiz Felipe Scolari, the Brazil coach, his team, his nation is underway. They will have to improve but already this World Cup is set to be one to remember as everyone prayed it would be beyond the protests and the vastness.

“This is our World Cup,” had been Scolari’s pre-match call and he meant it in far more than just location. This has to be Brazil’s World Cup, they have to claim the crown for a sixth time and anything short of that was thinkable; unspeakable.
 Even the questions aimed at Scolari have been more in search of reassurance as an attempt at inquisition and the wall of noise, from the walls of yellow shirts in the stands, that met the Brazil players as they ran on to warm-up was a release more than an excited greeting.
It was as nothing though to the rendition of the Brazilian national anthem, extending after the music had finished, which confirmed more than ever that for Scolari’s players this was more about managing emotion as facing Croatia.
Could Brazil surf that tide? The anxiety quickly grew after a strong run by Luka Modric, a cross by Ivan Perisic and a header from Ivica Olic which bounced narrowly wide. If that was a warning it was not heeded. Croatia broke again, again Olic was involved but this time he crossed low for Nikica Jelavic to waft his mis-hit shot across goal. The ball was going wide but it struck Marcelo and then bounced into the net. There was stunned silence. Marcelo appeared close to tears.

It was the ugliest start possible for Brazil against a team organised and committed and not without talent and who had quickly found their stride with, predictably, Modric the co-ordinator. By this time, with darkness beginning to fall, the floodlights had failed in one quadrant of the stadium. It felt ominous.
 But those lights slowly started to come back and so did Brazil. A succession of corners were gained, flashing across the Croatian penalty area before finally a forceful run by Paulinho forced goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa to beat out his shot.

The chants of “Brazil” re-emerged and so did Neymar who worked his way down the right, the ball running out but play waved on for an eventual clearance to fall to Oscar whose powerful curling shot was superbly pushed away by Pletikosa.

Neymar’s elbow into Modric’s neck – and he knew what he was doing – earned him a caution and the anger of the Croatians who angrily but understandably demanded further punishment. Instead they received it. Neymar scored. The ball was won by Oscar and ran to the striker who sweetly evaded a scything challenge and bore down on goal. He cut left and rolled a low shot with absolute accuracy, if not power, that had the ponderously diving Pletikosa beaten. The ball kissed a post and crossed the line and the stadium erupted.
 It was Neymar’s 32rd goal for Brazil in what was his 50th appearance – one behind Ronaldinho at the age of 22! - and it was his most precious strike as fireworks lit the darkening Sao Paulo sky just as he was beginning to fire his nation and provide the demanded story-line. He was not felling the pressure. It was becoming his show as run after run spread panic.

But Croatia will have been happy with their work so far with Hulk and Fred struggling to make any impact for Brazil who already seemed over-reliant on Neymar and a re-emerging Oscar whose trickery, aggression and energy had helped drag his team back into the contest.
The problem for Brazil lay largely in their defensive vulnerability and they constantly appeared stretched as both full-backs, especially Dani Alves who failed to deal with Olic, were caught out. Alves was fortunate to escape as he caught the Croatian as he ran onto one through ball.
By now Croatia were drawing Brazil’s sting and for Scolari’s side the decision had to made as to whether they would stick or twist.

They appeared spent. But Fred, collecting Oscar’s cross, threw himself to the ground as Dejan Lovren stood firm. The penalty was appealed for and, astonishingly, was given by the referee.
The Croatians were, rightly, furious but Neymar, eventually, finally, stepped up and sent the ball to Pletikosa’s right. The goalkeeper reached it but it skimmed off his gloves and into the net.
Angered Croatia stirred and then Nishimura erred again – awarding an Olic foul when he should have played on, as he beat Julio Cesar in the air, and an equalising goal would have been scored. But that was not in the script and Oscar ended any doubt by again winning possession and sprinting goal-wards. Defenders crowded him but he surprised Pletikosa with an early shot.

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