Two Neymar goals, moment of controversy see Brazil start with 3-1 win over Croatia

38 Comments

Two goals from Brazil’s biggest star got the World Cup off to a successful start for the hosts, but controversy overshadowed Neymar’s brace as Brazil 2014 kicked off in Sao Paolo. After a 71st minute penalty drawn by Brazilian striker Fred left Croatia pleading its case to referee Yuishi Nishimura, the tournament favorites had their first lead, with stoppage time insurance alloying the favorites to claim a 3-1 result.

The underdogs were up after 11 minutes when a ball rolled into the penalty area by Ivica Olic was turned into Brazil’s net by Selecao left back Marcelo – the team’s first own goal in World Cup history. Eighteen minutes later, Neymar converted his first of the day, rolling a ball from the top of the arc inside Stipe Pletikosa’s left post.

After Brazil gained momentum before halftime, Croatia assumed more control of the game in the second. That control was rebuked when Nishimura pointed to the spot in the 69th minute, issuing Croatian defender Dejan Lovren a yellow card after a disputed foul on Fred. Neymar’s finish from the spot delivered full points for the hosts.

One minute into stoppage time, a counterattack against the pursuing Croatians produced a chance from Oscar from just beyond the arc. Poking the ball inside Pletikosa’s right post, the Chelsea midfielder gave Brazil its insurance, producing a flattering two-goal result.

Play in Group A continues tomorrow when Mexico faces Cameroon in Natal. Brazil returns to the field Tuesday against Mexico in Fortaleza, while Croatia will face Cameroon on Wednesday in Manaus.

[ MORE: Nerves, Nishimura, Pletikosa: Talking points after Brazil’s victory over Croatia ]
[ MORE: Dive, poor officiating get 2014 World Cup off to a bad start ]

A slow start from Brazil gave Croatia two chances to strike first, the second of which put Niko Kovac’s team in front. In the seventh minute, a cross from the left by Ivan Perisic found Olic at the far post, but the Wolfsburg attacker’s snap header went just side of Julio César’s upright. Four minutes later, however, play built down Croatia’s left allowed Olic to roll a ball toward the edge of the six. A touch from Nikica Jelavic in the middle of the box caught Marcelo off guard, leading to an own goal.

source: Getty Images
Croatia Dejan Lovren (left) is called for a foul on Brazil’s Fred (right). Neymar converted the ensuing penalty kick to give Brazil a 2-1 lead. (Photo: Getty Images)

By the middle of the half, Brazil had shaken off their nerves, with chances from Paulinho and Oscar just after the 20-minute mark proving the favorites’ first threats on Pletikosa’s goal. In the 29th minute, a more benign chance finally produced the Selecao’s equalizer, with a scuffed shot by Neymar from 24 yards out nestling inside Pletikosa’s lower left hand corner.

Brazil built on that mid-half momentum but were unable to take the lead before half time. When the teams returned to the field, a more settled Croatia saw kept of the ball, with the team content to play around the edges of the Brazilian defense. The edge in possession that saw Brazil hold over 70 percent of the ball in the first half started to even out.

As the underdogs sent in reinforcements and Luiz Felipe Scolari looked for solutions, Croatia continued to bleed time off the clock, dominating the ball amid almost no pressure from the hosts’ midfield. Playing through Luka Modric in the middle, the underdogs spent most of the half’s first 20 minutes probing down the flanks before pulling the ball back toward the center circle. All the danger the favorites posed in the moments before halftime was gone.

In the 69th minute, Nishimura bailed the hosts out. On a ball played into the penalty area from the right by Oscar, Fred went to ground in front of defender Dejan Lovren, drawing a whistle. Pletikosa guessed correctly on Neymar’s try from the spot, but his hands weren’t strong enough to keep out a ball sent high into the left side of goal.

Over the game’s final 23 minutes, César was called on to make three big saves, with chasing Croatia controlling play over the match’s final chapter. In the 91st minute, however, Oscar brought their story to an end, with a ball poked from near 24 yards out getting past Pletikosa at the left post. Where César had stepped up to preserve his team’s points, Pletikosa had let in a second soft goal.

The 3-1 scoreline is what Selecao would have wanted at minute zero, but the form between the whistles left little difference in quality between the tournament favorites and a team hoping to escape Group A. The hosts took full points, but they needed some helped from Nishimura to do so.

[ MORE: Soccerly cover the World Cup ]

Lineups

Brazil: César, Alves, Silva, Luiz, Marcelo; Paulinho (Hernanes 63′), Gustavo; Hulk (Bernard 68′), Oscar, Neymar (Ramires 88′); Fred

Goals: Neymar 29′, (p.k.) 71′, Oscar 90+1′

Croatia: Pletikosa; Srna, Corluka, Lovren, Vrsaijko; Kovacic (Brozovic 61′), Modric, Rakitic; Perisic Olic, Jelavic (Rebic 78′)

Goals: Marcelo (o.g.) 11′

Charity match raised significant money for Hurricane Harvey victims

Twitter/@HoustonDynamo
Leave a comment

On Saturday night, a charity soccer match in Houston, Texas helped raise money for those affected by Hurricane Harvey.

[ MORE: Liverpool batters Bournemouth to go fourth ]

The “Kick in for Houston” game was organized by former Houston Dynamo and U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder Stu Holden — now an analyst for Fox Sports 1. Holden served as one of the team captains, while former NBA star Steve Nash captained the other team.

In total, Holden’s event raised over $239,000 for hurricane relief funds, per the event’s website.

Saturday’s match featured several other notable celebrities and current, as well as, former soccer player, like Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Brian McBride, Mia Hamm and U.S. Soccer presidential candidate Kyle Martino.

The game — which was an 8 vs. 8 fixture — finished 12-12 at BBVA Compass Stadium.

Holden spoke after the match about the overall success of the event, and the sort of impact it had for the Texas community.

“Amazing,” Holden said after the game. “If I pictured three months ago after I sent that tweet that this was going to be the turnout… everybody that came, all the athletes, all the people in the crowd, all the work that’s gone on behind the scenes, I can promise you it’s a lot more than it seems.

“I’m caught up in the middle of all this, but I thought this was an amazing, amazing night, and I hope to do another of these in the future.”

Additionally, Holden and Co. will be auctioning off game-worn kits from Saturday’s game to also benefit hurricane victims.

Rooney says Man City have work to do be better than ’08 Man United

AP Photo/Dave Thompson
Leave a comment

Perhaps it’s the bias talking from the former Red Devils star, but Wayne Rooney doesn’t believe the Premier League leaders have surpassed one of his ex-squads.

[ MORE: Liverpool smashes Cherries to go fourth ]

Despite Manchester City’s amazing unbeaten start over the club’s opening 18 matches, Rooney says his former rivals aren’t quite yet better than his 2008 Manchester United team that went on to beat Chelsea in the Champions League final.

“I’m not sure they [City] are quite there. They would have to keep going and do a lot more,” Rooney told TalkSPORT. “There have been so many great teams throughout the years in the Premier League. This City team needs to win trophies and needs to do it for a longer period to be in that bracket.

“The best ever? I would go with the Man United team from 2008!”

Only one Premier league side has ever finished a season undefeated in league play, which was accomplished by “The Invincibles” of Arsenal from the 2003/04 campaign.

With Man City nearly halfway to that feat, and accumulating 52 points through the first four-plus months of the domestic season, Pep Guardiola and Co. appear on track to track to break several records.

[ MORE: Making sense of the PL table in Man City’s world ]

However, Rooney says the balance of competitions and a tricky fixture schedule over the holiday window will make staying unbeaten an impossible task for the Cityzens.

“I don’t think they can go unbeaten,” he added. “They have done incredibly well with the run they have been on, but the Premier League is so difficult, especially now with this Christmas period coming up.

“I know they have a huge squad, a great squad of players. But there are so many top teams. I think in previous years it has been two teams and you went in knowing you would win most of the other games.

“But now there are five or six other teams that can all beat each other and I’m sure in one of those games Man City will get beaten.”

Klopp hails players in blowout, downplays squad rotation

Leave a comment

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain isn’t bothered by Jurgen Klopp‘s squad rotation at Liverpool.

“The front four have been on fire, they are not bad,” he said after the Reds battered Bournemouth 4-0 on Sunday.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-4 Liverpool ]

“Everyone’s a quality player and the rest of us have to sneak our noses in there. Squad rotation is important, keeps us fresh.”

Klopp was a little more critical of his squad, saying the changes had more to do with how the Reds performed against West Brom than a need to keep players fresh.

“I like them but against West Brom they didn’t hit the target. I don’t change my mind in three minutes, but we have to be consistently good because we are Liverpool.”

The manager especially loved how well Liverpool started, as Bournemouth didn’t have a chance to get moving. Klopp gets plenty of criticism, but he almost always has his finger on the pulse of his club. Sunday was a big win for the manager and his club, even if it was somewhat expected.

Making sense of the table in a Man City world

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
2 Comments

There are natural advantages to being atop the table deep into a Premier League season, the most evident being the ability to enter into any match against a challenger knowing a draw will likely be fine.

But what about being ahead of the field by double digits?

Perspective is a major challenge when a team is as doing as well as Manchester City. Pep Guardiola‘s men have drawn just once in 18 matches, and hold a 11-point lead on Manchester United, 14 points better than third place Chelsea.

Speaking of the Blues, manager Antonio Conte raised an interesting point after Chelsea beat Southampton on Saturday. Conte says City’s crazy run has colored over his team’s fine results, as last season’s champions are 8-1-1 since losing two-straight in October.

[ MORE: WBA 1-2 Man Utd | Bournemouth 0-4 Liverpool ]

Four losses is four losses — United has three — but it’s an interesting notion. Both sides have lost to City at home, but otherwise will finish the weekend boasting multiple match leads on the field when it comes to second- and third-place.

Is this much different from recent years? Consider the following seasons after 18 weeks.

Remember: Manchester United has 41 points, and Chelsea 38 (And United has been missing its World XI class player for all but eight games. Some of his doing, some not).

2016-17

Chelsea led the table with 46 points, six better than Liverpool and seven ahead of Man City. Spurs, who would finish second, had 33 points with a match-in-hand. That 13-point gap closed to seven.

2015-16

Leicester was atop the table with 38 points, just two better than Arsenal and three ahead of Man City. They’d finish 10 points better than Arsenal’s 71.

2014-15

Chelsea (45 points) held a three-point advantage on Man City and 10 on third place Manchester United. The Blues would finish eight points ahead of City.

2013-14

Liverpool and Arsenal were dead even with 36 points, one better than eventual champions Man City. The title winners finished two ahead of Liverpool, four free of Chelsea, and six past Arsenal.

So… both United and Chelsea would be leading the Premier League in two of the past four seasons, which is certainly notable.

I don’t want to belabor the Pogba point too much, especially since the most recent absence comes from a red card suspension, but what if United had him for all those matches? Do they find a goal in the 0-0 at Liverpool? Get a point from the 1-0 loss at Chelsea? Flip the script on the 2-1 loss at Huddersfield Town?

Let alone the City loss.

But again, seasons like this one from City remind us of the challenges of framing seasons when one campaign is oh-so-dominant.