Squint your eyes until the game is a blur, and Thursday’s result looks like a dream start for Brazil. Two goals from their best player? A 3-1 win over Croatia? Luiz Felipe Scolari would have taken that, had you offered him that result before kickoff. His team’s off to a 100 percent start.
Open those eyes and look at the details, and the result doesn’t look so convincing. The first 20 minutes where sluggish. The last 20 minutes tested Júlio César. Brazil was the better team over the full 90, but the two-goal margin flatters the Selecao.
In game one of (what Brazil hopes is) seven, it’s nothing to worry about. Every team has to start somewhere, and at this point of the tournament — for a core that’s never competed together on this stage — three points are enough.
Here are four other thoughts after the Selecao’s win in Sao Paulo:
1. Nerves slowed down Brazil – For 20 minutes in Sao Paulo, Brazil were bystanders, if not worse. After all, they scored Croatia’s goal.
Playing without passion or imagination, the Selecao seemed handcuffed by the occasion. If I didn’t know better, I’d say they were a team that’s never played together a World Cup that was trying to manage the pressures of being favorites on home soil.
Once they went behind, Brazil woke up, but that first 20 minutes is the kind of spell a team has to get out of its system early. In game one, you can overcome it. In game five, six, or seven, it will send you home.
2. Yuishi Nishimura owes Croatia an apology … – The penalty call was ridiculous. If Lovren’s left hand hadn’t been near Fred’s shoulder, it would have been unfathomable, not that Nishimura can use that excuse.
Any experienced referee (and especially one working a World Cup) should be able to distinguish foul from flop on such a routine play. If not, they shouldn’t be at the tournament. Hopefully Nishimura’s seen his last action of the World Cup.
(Also, if you’re inclined to say Brazil’s final goal makes the call irrelevant, that’s just not the case. The way Luka Modric was pinging passes around in the second half, Croatia could have very well played out the final 20 minutes and earned a draw. Goals change games, and Nishimura gifted Brazil their winner. Without it, Oscar doesn’t get the same chance he saw in the 91st.)
3. … and Stipe Pletikosa was the Nishimura of goalkeepers – You have to move those feet, man. On Neymar’s first and Oscar’s insurance, you can’t get get beat on those type of balls. A goalkeeper at this level has to be better than that.
Neither shot was hit well. Both were struck from distance, and each gave the Croatian keeper a chance to stop them. As much as Nishimura changed the match, Pletikosa had a chance to save it. And he didn’t.
[ MORE: Soccerly cover the World Cup ]
4. Despite it all, Brazil got three points – This wasn’t Confederations Cup Brazil, but it was also game one, and for as much as they failed to live up to the hype, the Selecao kept themselves in position to take advantage of what the match presented.
That’s a sign of a good team. Now the question is whether this team can grow into a great one.