Hello my fellow fútbol fans! And happy first day of the World Cup, 2014! I dunno about you, but I absolutely love watching this awesome spectacle. It seems like we have waited ages for it to arrive once again. After an awesome 2010 Cup and another beautiful taste of quality soccer from the Euro Cup in 2012, I have been dying for some amazing soccer. And now, it is finally here. And what a start we have gotten: Brazil versus Croatia! I love how intense and how passionate the World Cup is, and the atmosphere created around it. This year, I am going to try my hardest to write my thoughts on the matches that I watch (and my goal is all of them; this only happens every four years, people). But we’ll see if that actually happens. But, for those I do manage, my method is this: I will make bullet points as I watch the match on my thoughts and initial reactions, then fill in more details and in-depth analysis and reactions later on (posting it, then, of course). So, now that you know the methods to my World-Cup-inspired-madness, let’s get started.
Opening Match: Group A, Brazil versus Croatia, 6.12.14
* 6th minute run by Croatia — great run, surprising with the way that they take their first touches; stronger passes needed. In this, the Croatia players, upon receiving passes, were taking too strong of touches, resulting in the ball slipping away too far ahead of the Croatian players in order to keep possession. On the opposite side, however, their passes were too weak to start off. Play with purpose and get the ball to where it needs to be.
* 10th minute — OWN GOAL by Marcelo (6); beautiful run by Croatia; horrid defensive stance. I felt like this was unlucky for Marcelo. It just glazed off of his foot, just happening to go in the wrong direction and BAM: goal…but in the wrong net. What wasn’t unlucky, but just bad play, was the Brazilian defense. Not to knock the Croatian squad at all and their efforts (they came out in the first ten minutes and played very well), but anyone could have taken that defense the way they were set up.
* 12th minute — Marcelo, stopping to play to complain about not getting a tripping call; what are you thinking, you bloody lout? (Okay, I truly don’t think Marcelo is a lout ((but seriously, lout is a great word that we should be using more, people)), but I was frustrated and wrote that, so I will keep it!) but he did one of my pet peeves as both a soccer player and fan: he gave up in favor of the whistle. Croatia went after his cleats instead of the ball and tripped him up. Marcelo managed to slip away with the ball in possession, but instead of passing it on or clearing it, he took a second to look at the referee — who remained silent, no whistle blown and no call — and throw his hands up slightly, silently questioning the no call while Croatia players were still near and with the ball still in his possession. He managed to pass it to a fellow Brazilian and clear of danger, but COME ON. It drives me absolutely *nuts* when players play with the mindset that the whistle is a constant factor; an expected factor. They play with the idea that with every flop, faked pained ankle or contact, a whistle should be blown in their favor, stopping the flow of play and giving them the advantage, instead of playing harder, smarter and working themselves to get the ball back, to press it towards the net or to start/continue a run or play. My philosophy: play as if the whistle can never be blown and make shit happen on your own. Stop counting on the referee to save you and instead, do it yourself. (Rant over, sorry to Marcelo for getting the blunt of that one. But this drives me nuts.)
* 21st minute — Great cross to start off three very solid chances for Brazil; tempo picking up. You could feel it in the crowd, too! Always exciting, especially after the tremendous energy from the home crowd to start off the match; wish it could have lasted through the whole match, but when your team played like Brazil did (not poorly — they did come away with a 3-1 victory and three solid points — but not nearly well enough to win the Cup…and that is what they are here for and wanting to do, after all).
* 25th minute — Neymar (10) yellow (weak yellow, good acting by Croatia). Definitely not a yellow card. Sure, there was some contact, but it wasn’t a purposed elbow, more of a natural movement, even though he did shove the yellow away. But getting a yellow that early on in the first half…dangerous, to say the least.
* 28th minute — Great save by Cesar (12, K) (Brazil).
* 29th minute — Neymar GOAL after yellow, off the right post to tie it up, 1-1! Commentators, while excited when this goal was actually scored, talked afterward about the weakness behind Neymar’s shot, mentioning how a player at a level such as he should be able to capitalize more fully on a shot like that, making it stronger; thus, harder to manage for the keeper. In this instance, I go easier on Brazil (unlike my Marcelo rant; see above). It was a solid goal by a good player, in a time where the energy wasn’t fantastic by the team or the crowd. It was an equalizer that, because of the sudden boost of tempo, would result in a 3-1 victory. I give him credit. Well done!
* 38th minute — Ian using the term “wing-mirrors”; love that. All I can say is, listening to Ian Darke and Steve Mcmanaman commentate matches again is such a breathe of relief and fresh air compared to the announcing that I have been listening to with Royals baseball, as of late (yes, I know it is a different sport comparison, but these two commentators are gold; plus, their accents are pretty nice, too… :D)
* 42nd minute — Neymar, behind the back pass straight out-of-bounds and then, giving the ball away in the midfield, tying himself up; too fancy, stick to the basics. Another thing that bothers me is when players try and get too fancy with it. Neymar is a pretty footballer (Ian even joked ’bout spending more time on his hair than anything else, which I would believe) and you have to be in order to make, play and start for a National squad, especially one like Brazil. Don’t worry, we know you can do cool tricks, no look passes and fancy footwork. But which do you think will impress me more: a behind the back, pretty pass that misses your target and goes out of play after a throw-in or a simple, quick pass down the sideline, running a play of quick, accurate passes that results with the ball in the back of the net? (I think you know the answer). Brazil was still equal with Croatia at this point. Show me your fancy tricks after you’re winning by a few goals, instead of giving away a possession that, in the grand scheme of the match, could have been precious if capitalized upon.
* 58th minute — Not a lot of rhythm from either side; kinda soft at the moment, slow paced; intensity from the opening ten minutes not seen here at all. Something that I noticed at the beginning of the first half (that was intensified here in the beginning of the second) was the sense of comfort that Brazil played with — but not in a good way. Whilst still with energy, Brazil started off the match with a comfort, not-threatened attitude that I believed came from playing on home soil; an attitude that spoke softly of confidence, without a hint of doubt that they would win that match. So they didn’t fight, they didn’t play hard; passes got sloppy, the intensity was low and the Brazilians looked content to play a pick-up game where they knew they would score, they just knew it would happen eventually…which resulted in a shocking 1-nil lead for Croatia (own goal aside). And in this half, the start was less than promising for either side, all passion and intensity lacking, in my opinion. Thank goodness Brazil had the ref who was willing to give a helping hand with the first (but certainly not the last) controversial call of the Cup to get them the PK.
* 60th minute — First sub, Kovacic (20) coming out for Brozovic (14) (Croatia)
* 62nd minute — First Brazilian sub, Paulinho (8) coming off for Hernanes (18)
* 65th minute — Yellow card for Corluka (5), but I think that was a great challenge and great defense; sets up a free kick directly in front of the goal, though a bit far out (30 yards or so, thanks Ian) for Brazil; Alves (2) takes it, sends it directly over the bar. Close shot by Alves, definitely a strong kick, but not close enough to take the lead. And while Corluka got a card, I thought the defense was great on his end, and the end of the Croatians; definitely better than anything we saw from the Brazilian side, victory or no! (If the Brazilians want to work on anything to help them look Cup-worthy, take a look at your backs).
* 67th minute — Second sub, Brazil, Hulk (7) comes out for Bernard (20)
* 68th minute — Lovren (6), yellow in the box, against Croatia, resulting in a PK (BULL yellow); Neymar takes it; Keeper “saves” it…into the net. So unlucky for the Croatian keeper. Poor, unlucky Lovren. Controversial this call will be, because it was the wrong one to make. And unfortunately, this wrong resulting in the turn of the tempo for the match, helping Brazil gain the lead and then maintain it. And really, scoring close to the 70th minute is the perfect time to take the lead: enough time to score again (for either side, so defense is still key here) but for the losing side, the pressure is definitely felt. I won’t beat this into the ground (the commentators will do that plenty for me in the weeks to come) but the ref missed this one, and it cost Croatia dearly. Well played ball by Neymar, though Pletikosa should truly had have that save.
* 71st minute — Neymar GOAL, PK, 2-1 Brazil lead.
* 76th minute — Gutsy cross, David Luiz (4) had great opportunity to further their lead, but heads it wide. Brushed over his head and against his fro, to be more honest, but still, great opportunity, unlucky break. Liked what I saw from Luiz today, particularly on the defensive end towards the end of the match; excited to see what else comes from this player as the tournament progresses.
* 77th minute — Second sub for Croatia, Jelavic (9) coming off for Rebic (16).
* 79th minute — Corner for Brazil, ball travels directly across the goal off of Brazil header. Ever watch those balls that are played and travel completely across the pitch, traveling directly in front of the goal, going completely across it, yet it never finds its way in? Yeah, that happened here. This is why marking the back post is important, people.
* 81st minute — Bit off a ball hog, Neymar? Also, Marcelo, stop giving up and asking for the call; play the game! Neymar, I get you: you’re a good player and you have great skill, footwork and speed. But even you can’t take on half of the Croatian team on your own (hint: if half of the red and white jerseys are on top of you, they can’t be guarding your teammates. This is the time to make a pass, then make yourself open again for said teammate. Don’t worry, the ball will come back to you ((Disclaimer: Sorry for the blatant snarkiness; result of wrapping up this post in the wee hours of the evening before the matches in the morning.))) Marcelo, I won’t rip into you again, but…you did it again. The ref may have been your friend this match, but he won’t always be: play the game.
* 82nd minute — Best chance we have seen for Croatia since the own goal in the first; good work by David Luiz for Brazil to cover the goal after the keeper got entangled with (18); no goal. Although I am not bummed Brazil won, I really wanted Croatia to capitalize on this opportunity. They deserved a goal. Shout out to Luiz, though: way to play defense. Can you teach the rest of your squad to do the same? (Sorry, snarky again).
* 85th minute — Long shot from Modric (10), almost catching Brazilian keeper off-guard (“My goodness!” exclaimed by the hilarious Ian Darke). The “my goodness” exclamation resulted in the fact that Modric took this shot (not a very powerful one, as well) from quite a ways outside the box, yet Cesar *still* dove, the ball barely brushing off his fingertips for a save. Maybe cutting it a bit close there, ay?
* 87th minute — Neymar comes off as a card-precaution as Ramires comes on
* 88th minute — Modric header, close but no cigar. Now I just wanted Modric to score. Well played match by him, overshadowed by controversy and Brazilians.
* 89th minute — Bad passes don’t help Croatia’s chances. It’s like beating a dead horse. You aren’t going to get anywhere if you can’t complete a pass.
* 90th minute — Oscar (11), for Brazil, GOAL! 3-1 Brazil. This is in the bag, ladies and gents. Steve claims the toe poke was a very savable shot, and I completely agree. While it is always awesome to watch a very late goal scored in a match (unless you are associated with the opposite team), this wasn’t the strongest goal at all. And on a toe poke, no less! He didn’t learn that shot in training, I can tell you that much (though Ian was quick to point out, as he was surrounded by Croatian defenders, there wasn’t much else he could have done. And it did result in a goal, after all).
* 4 minutes of stoppage time added.
* FINAL: Brazil 3, Croatia 1.
All in all, not a bad way to start off the World Cup at all. I thoroughly enjoyed the match (almost as much as I did trying to critique it here, as if I could do any better than the brilliant players out on that pitch :P) and I hope that the rest of them will be just as enjoyable!
Tune in Friday, June 13th (can you feel the eerie magic?) for three sick matches: Mexico versus Cameroon, Spain versus Netherlands and Chile versus Australia! Thanks for reading and I look forward to reporting again soon!