Brazil get ball rolling in World Cup after a stuttering start
Home side grab opening night victory as protesters fail to mobilise
Brazil fans celebrate before the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group A match between Brazil and Croatia at Arena de Sao Paulo, Brazil, last night. Photograph: Christopher Lee/Getty Images
Brazil’s World Cup got off to a stuttering start last night where least expected.
After all the problems during the build-up to the tournament the day ran relatively smoothly off the pitch but ended with the favourites relying on a soft penalty to get past Croatia in their group opening match.
The hosts found themselves behind early in the game and only went ahead after striker Fred went down in the 70th minute after under the faintest of touches. Neymar scored from the resulting penalty and with Croatia pushing for an equaliser Oscar scored late on the break to complete a nervy 3-1 victory.
Croatia showed up clearly unwilling to play its’ appointed role as this opening ceremony’s sacrificial goat. A break in the 11th minute and a dangerous ball across Brazil’s box and suddenly they were 1-0 up thanks to the unfortunate Marcelo’s own goal.
Shortly afterwards part of the stadium’s lighting failed as dusk gathered and all the off-field problems during the tournament’s build-up threatened to spill over onto the pitch.
But the reaction from the normally fickle São Paulo crowd was exemplary.
Behind the playersLess than a week ago the city’s fans whistled the team for failing to score after 15 minutes against Serbia in the their last warm-up game. Here they got behind the players, driving them on.
They were rewarded in the 29th minute goal with a brilliant goal from the team’s undisputed star Neymar.
From just outside the box he placed a beautiful shot in off the right post past the despairing dive of Stipe Pletikosa. The relief that coursed through the crowd was palpable.
Earlier the month-long tournament kicked off with a rather modest opening ceremony for the land of carnival. The day saw protests in several host cities across Brazil by groups opposed to the billions of euro in public money spent on preparing for the tournament.
But in contrast to the Confederations Cup last year they failed to mobilise large numbers.
In São Paulo police clashed with demonstrators at one of the main roads linking the centre of the city to the stadium before the game.