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What I Learned From Watching Matchday 1 of the 2014 FIFA World Cup™

June 13, 2014

The 2014 FIFA World Cup kicked off in Sao Paolo as the host country Brazil defeated Croatia 3-1 in a sloppy, nervy match that was a god result for the other non-Brazil Group A hopefuls. If you miss any of the live games during the tournament, in the U.S. you can watch or DVR extended highlights and overnight replays nightly on the ESPN family of networks (check local listings) or stream the games live or in replay at Here’s what I learned:


  • For me, the Opening game never feels like a real World Cup game, rather more like an exhibition, what with all the splendor, anticipation, it’s almost like I can’t believe it’s finally here and going on.  Usually it doesn’t hit me until the 2nd day – and what a doozy of a second day with Mexico-Cameroon, Chile-Australia and the 2010 World Cup Final rematch Spain vs. The Netherlands, but more on that later – and judging from how the game unfolded, both squads appeared to have trouble getting into a flow. First 10 minutes or so was nervy on the pitch and in the crowd, although I do appreciate the absence of vuvuzelas, air horns and other noise makers, it renders the crowd atmosphere akin to 60,000 people sitting on their hands, waiting for something to happen, clearly infecting the Brazilian side with a malaise. In the 11th something did happen, with Ivan Rakitic starting a Croatian counterattack, passing to Ivica Olic who sent a seeing-eye cross that Nikica Jelavic deflected onto an absentminded Marcelo finishing as an autogol. The first in Brazilian World Cup history. ESPN broadcaster Steve “Macca” McManaman said it perfectly: “You could see this coming a mile away,” and exclaiming on the replay that there was “Nobody near anybody!”


  • Darkness soon enveloped the Arena do Sao Paolo, both figuratively and literally as in a bad omen for both the Brazillian team and their WC organizing efforts, two banks of floodlights failed as the sun set and the Brazilian team lacking that final bit of belief for the following 10 minutes, before they finally started peppering Stipe Pletikosa’s goal. The Man Who Might be King, Neymar, brought Brazil back level in the 29th with a simple triple-hopper finish (reminiscent of Barry Bonds failed throw to home in the 1992 NLCS) from 25 yards out that easily beat Pletikosa and had help from the right post. A very un-Brazilian goal, and the teams entered the locker rooms tied at 1.


  • The Second half began much like the First, pensively, and sleepy until a yellow card on Croatia’s Vedran Corluka in the 66th minute woke Brazil up, soon followed by a shambolic penalty call by the Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura that rewarded a Fred (my favorite name in this World Cup) flop of which Vlade Divac would be proud. Another soft goal by Pletikosa (who got his hands on Neymar’s mediocre penalty kick and by my estimation should have stopped it) allowed and Brazil was up 2-1 in the 71st.


  • Game was really decided in the midfield, not just with the overall possession edge Brazil had (58-42%) but with Croatia’s inability to string passes together on attack – aside from the play that ended in the autogol – Paulinho, Luis Gustavo, Oscar and Neymar constantly broke up the flow Croatia was trying to build. The Croats did up the pressure in the final 10 minutes and created four (4) goal scoring opportunities, forcing three (3) saves from Julio Cesár before Oscar stole the ball in midfield in stoppage time, ran 30 yards and toe-poked yet another soft goal past Pletikosa to seal the win.


  • Croatia is earnest with the oft-tempestuous Jelevic up top as their striker, but I think they will be downright dangerous with Mario Mandzukic once he returns from red-card suspension against Cameroon on Wednesday June 18. As for Brazil, 3 points are 3 points, but the 3-1 final score flattered to deceive. The Seleção leave Sao Paolo knowing there is much to improve upon.


  • Friday’s action should be a visual feast. If Mexico-Cameroon is a nice appetizer – let’s say one of my favorites, flash-fried calamari – then Spain-Netherlands is the grass-fed bone-in T-bone steak and Chile-Australia is the bowl of triple chocolate ice cream that’s a nice treat but ultimately superfluous.

From → Soccer, Sports

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