By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Seleção (Brazil national team) got their FIFA World Cup campaign off to a winning start yesterday, overcoming Croatia 3-1 at the Arena Corinthians in São Paulo. Brazil were given a fright after falling behind, but a majestic performance from Chelsea playmaker Oscar helped pull them through.
As the players lined up for the national anthems prior to kick-off there were clear emotions on their faces. Several had tears in their eyes, and as the music stopped the eleven continued singing an a capella version of the anthem.
Those pre-match emotions were translated into nerves during the game’s opening exchanges. Then they were given a real shock when Marcelo turned Ivica Olic’s left-sided cross into his own net on eleven minutes.
Frustration rose in the stands. There was no immediate recreation from the hosts, and boos began to be heard around the Arena Corinthians terraces. They were silenced by their key man, Neymar. The Barcelona forward was given more than a helping hand by Oscar.
The midfielder fought for the ball in the middle of the park, refusing to give it up for lost. He laid it on to Neymar, whose left footed drive from the edge of the area found the bottom right-hand corner. The sides went in 1-1 at half-time but the pendulum was slowly beginning to swing in Brazil’s favor. Oscar, in particular, had an inspired game, and was at the heart of Brazil’s attacking impetus.
As Brazil cranked up the pressure, there was a growing expectation they would eventually manage to break down a stubborn Croatian defense. Yet when the goal came, it was in controversial circumstances. Oscar played the ball into Fred in the penalty area, who tumbled to the ground under contact from Dejan Lovren. The referee pointed to the spot without hesitation, and Neymar tucked away the resulting kick.
Advantage Brazil, much to the fury of Croatia, who had a goal disallowed when Olic was judged to have challenged Brazil goalkeeper Júlio César unfairly. In injury time, Brazil made sure of the result when Oscar raced through to poke home. It was no less than he deserved.
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