Oscar turned in a tremendous performance as Brazil stuttered to an unconvincing win against Croatia in the opening game of the 2014 World Cup.
After the usual pre-opener ceremony – this year featuring the release of doves, hundreds of dancers and a performance from Jennifer Lopez, and sadly no Diana Ross in sight – the match got underway in a slightly empty-looking Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo, perhaps due to the ongoing protests in Brazil about the staging of the tournament.
The Blues’ most represented country at this year’s World Cup started with two of the four Stamford Bridge regulars that were selected. David Luiz started alongside imminent team-mate Thiago Silva, while Oscar started on the right-hand side for ex-Chelsea gaffer ‘Big Phil’ Scolari’s side. Ramires would go on to make a late appearance from the bench, while Willian stayed there.
A smattering of Premier League players past and present lined up for the Croatians – ex-Tottenham trio Luka Modric, Vedran Corluka and Stipe Pletikosa alongside Southampton centre-back Dejan Lovren and Hull City striker Nikica Jelavic all started the game for Niko Kovac’s men.
It was in fact the Croatians who settled into the game better, looking neat on the ball and zipping it around nicely. Ivica Olic can consider himself unlucky he didn’t open the scoring after seven minutes, as he could only head Ivan Perisic’s cross just wide at the back post.
Just four minutes later though, he more than made up for it.
Finding space on the left after Dani Alves had committed upfield, Olic whipped in a delightful ball which Brazil failed to deal with as it found its way through to an off-balance Marcelo who could only scuff the ball past his own goalkeeper. Croatia were leading as the stadium descended into dead silence in disbelief.
Brazil really struggled to get into gear, not looking like the inventive side they can be. Neymar was extremely lucky to stay on the pitch after an intentional elbow to Modric’s face, which was only punished with a booking by referee Yuichi Nishimura, who had a desperately poor evening officiating.
Brazil equalised on the half-hour and as it so often the way in football, it was Neymar who scored for the hosts. Oscar wriggled past two Croatian challenges before finding Neymar, who found the net from 25 yards. The contact wasn’t as clean as he would’ve hoped, but the home fans didn’t care as their brightest talent delivered the equalising goal.
It was during the second half however, where the controversy started. Lovren, who had defended brilliantly all game, was judged to have fouled Brazil’s Fred, despite no contact appearing to have been made. Neymar dispatched the penalty, which Pletikosa got a hand to, to give Brazil the lead.
While Neymar will inevitably be receiving the headlines (alongside the referee Nishimura for his rather inept display), it was our very own Oscar who deserves the plaudits. Tirelessly working down the flanks, Oscar was often the biggest creative threat to Croatia’s well-structured defence.
By the time Oscar had scored the goal his performance justified in stoppage, club team-mate Ramires had come on for Neymar in an effort to shut up shop at 2-1. As Brazil broke forward, Ramires could have easily been deemed to foul a Croatian player in the build-up, coming in from behind to dispossess him leading to Oscar’s goal.
Either way, Oscar found himself 25 yards out and blasted an early toe-poke right into the bottom left corner, catching Pletikosa by surprise as Brazil wrapped up three points.
Croatia can consider themselves rightly aggrieved that they failed to score a point, thanks to referee’s insistence on calling a foul every time Marcelo had been tackled despite minimal contact being made most of the time, and had a perfectly good goal ruled out for an apparent infringement on QPR stopper Julio Cesar.
Brazil however, despite an uncharacteristically flat performance, will not care how the three points were accrued. Luiz, Oscar, et al, will surely make it out of a group that appears easy on the face of it, however based on this performance, they will be in for a scrap in the Round of 16 – Spain, Netherlands or Chile will be their likely opponents. In Neymar however, and especially Oscar, they have the talent to win any game, no matter how poor they are playing before or afterwards.