By Mike Woitalla
First came the opening ceremonies, in which Jennifer Lopez, rapper Pitbull, and Brazilian singer Claudia Leitte performed a colorful but cacophonic rendition of “We Are One” after climbing out of a peeled melon.
During warm-ups,Neymar rolled his ankle, but walked off the limp within a minute. He seemed to be fighting back tears as he sang and some 61,000 fans belted out Brazil’s national anthem. Then the 22-year-old proved he’s up to the pressure of leading Brazil in this World Cup it's expected to win in the 3-1 victory that was highlighted by and left these impressions …
Early own goal left Brazilians plenty of time to recover. Eleven minutes into the 20th World Cup, Ivica Olic hit a sharp low cross that Brazilian left back Marcelo poked into his own goal. It was the 37th own goal in World Cup history and the first ever by a Brazilian. The hosts, though, had plenty of time to make it right.
World Cup Today:Thursday
What position does Neymar play? Whatever he wants. Often he’s wide, but he roams the field and in the 29th minute pounced on a loose ball in the middle, beat one defender, took a few touches, and sent a low left-footed shot off the inside of the right post for the equalizer from 24 yards out.
Hand on shoulder not enough to drop Fred. Yuichi Nishimura rightfully cautioned Neymar for swatting Luka Modric in the face but the ref should have brought out yellows for Croatia’s persistent fouling. (The foul count was: Croatia 21; Brazil 5). In the 71st minute Nishimura sparked the tournament’s first fire-storm of officiating controversy by awarding a penalty kick when Fred fell in front of Dejan Lovren, whose only sign of a possible transgression was a hand on Fred’s shoulder that couldn’t have caused him to drop.
Besides Neymar, few delivered jogo bonito. The Brazilians will be satisfied with the comeback win, but it failed to establish much of a rhythm. We got only fleeting samples of the brilliance one expects from Brazil. They usually came from Oscar when he dribbled down the wing, often tricking his way past double-teaming markers. He scored a marvelous goal in stoppage time when he darted through the middle, fended off challenges and toe-poked the ball past keeper Stipe Pletikosa.
Center forward Fred was ineffective besides drawing the penalty kick, which Neymar slammed home with his right foot for the go-ahead goal. Hulk wasn’t a factor but tiny Bernard, his dynamic replacement in the 68th minute, made a case to get a start on Tuesday against Mexico.
Brazil failed to deliver a jogo bonito performance but perhaps the result will shake off the nerves and build the confidence needed to deliver the beautiful game as it continues its quest for a sixth World Cup title.