In the first of what will be a daily feature, Stretty News will be taking a brief look at each night’s World Cup action. The World Cup kicked off last night with Brazil versus Croatia.

Round-up:

After a rather unusual opening ceremony featuring dancing flowers, J-Lo and Pitbull, the teams lined up for the national anthems and the World Cup began in earnest. It was plain to see just how much winning means to the Brazilians with fans and players alike singing with passion and gusto, culminating in an intimidating A cappella finish that saw the packed stadium produce a wall of noise. If the Croatians were awestruck, they certainly didn’t show it. Niko Kovac promised that his side wouldn’t park the bus, and they delivered, going toe to toe with Scolari’s men throughout the opening stages, regularly threatening on the counter and taking the lead inside twenty minutes. Under pressure from Nikica Jelavić, a hapless Marcelo turned the ball into his own net.

Brazil seemed to lack a cutting edge to their play, and were bettered in midfield by the brilliant Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitić. One area in which the Croatians did look susceptible was in goal, and just before the half hour mark, Brazil were able to exploit this weakness. After a series of unsuccessful challenges, Neymar was able to squirm free of the attentions of the Croatian midfield and place a tame shot past goal keeper Pletikosa.

After half time the stalemate continued, with Brazil having the majority of chances, but also looking error prone at the back. As the game entered its last half hour the result was decided by two controversial decisions. The first a soft penalty, saw Fred tumble under a light challenge, followed by Neymar stepping up to convert, with Pletikosa once again at fault, failing to adequately divert the shot, despite getting hands to the ball. The second saw an Ivan Perisic goal unfairly disallowed, after Olic was judged to have fouled Brazil keeper Cesar, despite replays showing the former Inter stopper was never in possession of the ball which was won cleanly.

Gloss was added to result by Oscar, whose finish whilst accurate and composed, really should have been saved by the inadequate Pletikosa. Brazil though will not care as to the manner of the result, only the outcome. Scolari’s men showed little of the flair and fluidity with which they won the Confederations Cup, but will be confident in their ability to develop as the tournament progresses, and will be no doubt glad to have the pressure for that first win off their backs. Croatia on the other hand have every right to feel robbed, having matched Brazil in most departments. Once the initial disappointment clears however, Kovac’s men can take heart from their ability to go toe to toe with the best of sides and will be confident of qualifying from their group.

Highlights:

None of the goals were particularly impressive or captivating in what was a tightly contested affair, and unfortunately, the match was dominated by refereeing decisions. The tone was set after an elbow to Modric by Neymar. There was an argument to be made for sending the Barcelona forward off, but referee Yuichi Nishimura instead produced a yellow. Whilst a reasonable decision, the Neymar booking hinted that perhaps Nishimura was intimidated by the vocal home crowd, and so it proved when he chose to award a penalty for what was the slightest of touches on Fred by Dejan Lovren. Finally, the match was ended as a tie when Croatia’s equaliser was wrongly disallowed.

Star Perfomer:

Notable mention must go to Ivan Rakitić, who dominated the midfield in every sense, hardly putting a foot wrong as he tackled, passed and dribbled to perfection, delivering a real masterclass. Rakitić has had a phenomenal season for Sevilla, and is now set to sign for Barcelona. Based off of last night’s performance, Rakitić should have no problems replacing Chelsea bound Cesc Fabregas. However, it was Neymar that was last night’s star performer. No, his goals weren’t spectacular, but Neymar won’t care and he played with verve and zeal for a Brazil side that lacked any spark. Neymar was at the heart of everything good Brazil did last night and will need to continue to deliver performances of that calibre if Brazil are to finally win a World Cup on home soil and shed the ghost of the Maracanazo.