2014 FIFA World Cup: Neymar leads Brazil past Croatia in opener
Brazil beats Croatia 3-1 in World Cup opener.
Brazil got bailed out Thursday night in its World Cup opener. First by Neymar, then by the official.
The Brazilians surrendered an early own goal before Neymar answered with a first-half equalizer, and a dive in the box from striker Fred led to the go-ahead goal in the second half on a Neymar penalty kick.
Oscar then added some security in extra time, and Brazil is back on track at the head of Group A.
It didn't seem that way early, though, as Croatia set the early pace, earning several chances but failing to capitalize. It appeared the Croatians ran out of gas late, and they certainly didn't get the benefit of the referee's whistle.
Aside from the Fred dive, Croatia got their own equalizer called off after a questionable foul call.
Either way, the outcome was what was expected. Get caught up on all the action from Thursday below.
91' -- WHOA. Croatia's equalizer again just barely gets stopped, and Brazile comes back and scores. Oscar sneaks one past the keeper to put this one on ice.
88' -- And Neymar's off. He scored both goals for Brazil. And whoa, Croatia almost scored. They've been sending a pretty potent attack the last few minutes.
86' -- I'm sorry I can't explain this better, but Modric nearly scored the equalizer, and I have no idea how. It snuck through a forest of legs and near past Brazilian keeper Julio Cesar.
83' -- Croatia puts one in the net, but they were called for a foul seconds before. Certainly the Brazilians are getting a friendly whistle, no?
79' -- Neymar goes down favoring his right foot, though he appears to be okay.
77' -- Almost right on cue, David Luiz finds himself on the other end of a perfect cross from Oscar and heads it just over the net.
76' -- Brazil's fitness may be taking a toll on Croatia, both mentally and physically. Wouldn't be a surprise if they were to tack on another goal.
71' -- Neymar takes it and makes it. Pletikosa almost blocked it -- what an effort.
69' -- Wow. Quite a call there. In fact, quite a flop from Fred. Still, the result is the same. Penalty kick for Brazil.
67' -- Nope. Dani Alves flips the free kick just over the crossbar.
66' -- UPDATE: Neymar gets whacked, Brazil lining up a free kick. Gotta imagine Neymar gives this one a go.
65' -- Each team has subbed in a set of fresh legs, though little has changed.
56' -- Yeah, nothing is really happening. Just some possession trading around the midfield and desperate chances.
Gotta think Croatia is content with a draw here.
50' -- Brazil has seen a few chances cleared, but nothing particularly threatening. They have, however, dominated possession thus far.
Halftime -- Pretty even half, really. Brazil really started bringing it after the opening own goal put the Croats on the board. Neymar answered and the Brazilians had several chances thereafter.
Here's some good halftime reading: "Soccer Increases Heart Attack Risk." Enjoy the rest of the game!
42' -- Neymar earns a free kick and he mashes it into the wall for a corner. Still, of note: Neymar has 32 goals in 50 international appearances. Eighth in Brazilian history. Not bad.
40' -- Both sides getting decent chances, but nothing notable as now. Perhaps both sides content with an even score at halftime.
34' -- Croatia earns a corner cleared by Brazil. The Croatians have said coming in that they weren't going to sit back, but you'd have to think they'd be satisfied to cruise into halftime tied.
29' -- GOAL. Neymar strikes from the edge of the box, placing a strike far post just out of Pletikosa's reach. Brazil EXHALES.
Interestingly, it didn't look like Neymar's best strike, but it ended up in just the right spot.
27' -- And Neymar gets the first yellow card of the World Cup after drilling his forearm into Modric's throat.
23' -- Neymar's clever run nearly yields a goal, but Croatia keeper Stipe Pletikosa turns Oscar away.
18' -- Perhaps this is the displaced patriotism speaking, but it really feels like Brazil is trending towards a breathrough then, perhaps, an explosion. That said, Croatia has been game thus far, no question.
15' -- Safe to say the Brazilians may be a little nervous, or at least anxious. Neymar gets a chance but can't get a foot on it. You'd have to expect an anxious crowd growing moreso if the match continues this way.
11' -- GOAL (?). Bad, bad defending leads to a strange own goal as Marcelo deflects it into Brazil's net. Wow. Pretty amazing.
6' -- Brazil gets an early free kick spoiled, and Croatia answers with a near goal on Olic's header -- that he didn't even get a head on.
5' -- Not the most spirited start for either side. Croatia has had a couple chances early, but nothing for the Brazilians to sweat about.
1' -- It's official. This is actually happening. We're finally underway in the 2014 World Cup.
3:58 p.m. ET: Man, quite an emotional scene as Brazil's players and fans belt out the national anthem at full volume. Neat stuff.
3:55 p.m. ET: We're approaching kickoff as both national anthems are played. May be a good time to note that soccer may dominate your life for the next 31 days. Plan accordingly.
3:45 p.m. ET: Hey, Croatia, here's more odds against you! In the history of the World Cup, no host nation has ever lost its opener.
3:40 p.m. ET: Twenty minutes from the opening kick of the World Cup, Neymar decides to freak out the whole of Brazil.
It looked as if the Brazilian star tweaked his ankle a touch, but he's fine.
Here are the starting lineups for both sides.
Goalkeeper - Julio Cesar
Defenders - Dani Alves, David Luiz, Thiago Silva, Marcelo
Midfielders - Paulinho, Luiz Gustavo, Hulk, Oscar, Neymar
Forward - Fred
Goalkeeper - Stipe Pletikosa
Defenders - Vedran Corluka, Dejan Lovren, Darijo Srna, Sime Vrsaljko
Midfielders - Ivan Perisic, Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic
Forwards - Nikica Jelavic, Ivica Olic
The Croatians boast a solid midfield -- perhaps even one that rival's mighty Brazil -- but they will sorely miss forward Mario Mandzukic, who was given a red card in the team's final playoff match and will serve a one-game suspension.
Obviously Brazil will have a noticeable crowd advantage. Here's a glimpse at how noticeable.
The Croatian contingent, in two shadows at Arena de São Paulo. pic.twitter.com/IsZESyC3OZ— Chris Jones (@MySecondEmpire) June 12, 2014
Also, in the interest of objectivity, here are a few members of the Brazil contingent. (Spoiler: One is a dog wearing a Neymar jersey.)
Still 4.5 hours to go until World Cup opener. Buzz is evident on streets: cars honking horns, lots of green & yellow pic.twitter.com/JGzdfHNB84— Rick Maese (@RickMaese) June 12, 2014
Brazil vs. Croatia (Group A) | Kickoff: 4 p.m. ET | Stadium: Corinthians, Sao Paulo
Match Preview: It's important to note out of hand that Big Head the sea turtle has already picked Brazil in this one, so all other analysis is mostly pointless.
And frankly, Big Head is probably right.
It's hard to imagine Brazil dropping the World Cup opener on its home soil, though that's not to say Croatia isn't a worthy foe. Just, moreso, that the Brazilians are going to be a tough out, especially in front of a partisan crowd.
Croatia may be angling most for a draw, which would keep them from being forced to play catch-up for the remainder of the group stage. It's expected that either Croatia or Mexico be second to Brazil in Group A, with Cameroon lagging behind.
Either way, all the predicting and prognosticating, for the most part, ends Thursday and the games begin.
Kickoff is slated for 4 p.m. ET, and this page will be frequently updated with live analysis.
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