The 200% World Cup: World Cup Breakfast, Day One

5 By Ian  |   The Ball  |   June 13, 2014  |     2

When is a fix not a fix? It’s a riddle, for sure, and it’s a question that many people will be asking in all seriousness after the host nation Brazil eventually overcame an impressive performance by Croatia to win by three goals to one in Sao Paulo last night. The host nation are up and running, but they only did so with considerable assistance from the rub of the green, and they will have to improve if they wish to find a way past better opposition than that which they faced last night.

Meanwhile, protests against the tournament being held there in the first place rumbled on, and we should offer a little credit to ITV for not shying away from this. Not only were these protests referenced more than once during their broadcast last night, but a short report on them laid out the protesters’ objections with straightforward clarity. All of this, coupled with Brazil’s shakiness once the football actually got going, led to a curiously uneasy opening day to the tournament. When we factor in the growing unhappiness at Sepp Blatter’s decision to renege upon surrendering his fiefdom and the lazy and ignorant comments which followed this, such a sense of unease is probably completely appropriate.

Even if we discount the theory that there was no conspiracy against Croatia last night (strings of bad decisions can happen, and without proof a conspiracy can only remain a conspiracy), alarm bells might be ringing in Zagreb today at the performance of goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa, who might or should have got to all three of Brazil’s goals, and it’s likely that there will be considerable disappointment in their camp at the final result. This, after all, wasn’t merely a match that they took the lead in before being steamrollered. This was a match that they could or should have taken a result from.

After an opening ceremony that might have been subtitled “Tron In The Rainforest” and an explosive rendition of the Brazilian national anthem which most likely shook the still setting concrete of the stadium to its foundations, Brazil looked nervy, and these nerves reached their climax when Marcelo turned the ball past his own goalkeeper to give Croatia the lead. For a while, it looked as if the surprise result might be on, and even after Neymar levelled things up with a daisy cutter which crept past Pletikosa and in at a pace best described as “glacial”, Brazil’s defence looked nervy enough for the superstitious to turn their attention to the ghosts of 1950. There was nothing inevitable about their eventual win.

A series of poor refereeing decisions regarding ended up turning the tide on this match. Neymar was booked for cracking his elbow into the face of Luka Modric and received a yellow card for his troubles rather than the red that he probably merited. Brazil’s penalty kick, which turned out to be the axle upon which the match pivoted, was given for an almost non-existent bit of grabbing on Fred inside the penalty area. On another day, even his resulting kick might have been saved by Pletikosa, who got first one hand and then the other on the ball but couldn’t keep it out of his goal. And then Croatia had a goal disallowed for a challenge on Julio Cesar which spared the goalkeeper’s blushes at the ball having squirmed through his hands. Brazil’s third goal, scored after a lengthy run and toepoke by Oscar, came in stoppage time against an exhausted defence and again with a shot that a more complete goalkeeper might have reached.

By convention moderate starters in these tournaments Brazil should improve over time, but their defensive performance leaves significant question marks over how they will cope against more inspired opposition. This, when we consider the unanimity with which pre-tournament predictions foresaw this team sweeping all before them to eventual and inevitable victory in the Maracana, can only be A Good Thing for the 2014 World Cup Finals. Croatia, who found providence to most definitely not be on their side last night, will now be hoping that Brazil’s good fortune continues to hold in their remaining two group matches.

Classic World Cup Match Of The Day

Every morning, we’ll be bringing you a classic match from the past. This morning, the then-defending champions Brazil take on Bulgaria at Goodison Park in Liverpool in, of course, 1966, a tournament which turned out to be the last time that they were knocked out in the opening group stage of the competition.

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Ian

Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.

Comments
  • June 13, 2014 at 8:16 am

    Johnny

    Excellent read. Ref was a shambles last night, and the only one of the three goals the Croatian goalie did better than one might have expected at was the penalty (by the way, if it isn’t still banned, I wish someone whould stop all that shimmying nonsense on the run-ups….seem to remember Aldridge getting into a lot of bother for that).

    As for whether it was a fix or not, it did not look good. But I will reserve judgment for now, though I will become convinced if there is more of the same in the hosts’ later matches. It’s hard not to wonder if football’s overlords are set on helping Brazil as much as they can, given how much native opposition there is to the running of the tournament in the first place. I just hope that, whoever ends up winning, they do so because they showed the most skill and played the best football. I’m not sure last night was a good advert for the tournament in that regard at all, albeit Brazil did show more going forward than their opponents, on balance.

  • June 13, 2014 at 9:25 am

    Mark

    I know Oscar “took his shot early” a tactic which doesn’t allow goalies to “set themselves,” but that third goal made me think that if there was a fix, Michael Stipe Pletikosa was centrally involved. However, HOWEVER…
    I still believe I saw a REAL fix at the last Olympics, in the women’s semi-final between Canada and the USA. I wrote about it on this site at the time, so I won’t (again?) bore you with the details here. But it might be worth watching again – in fact, no ‘might’ about it because it was a terrific match despite the dodginess – to compare with last night’s events.
    Finally (hooray!!), apart from a ghastly third quarter which got the Mexican wave it deserved, I thought last night’s match was scrappy, nervy but nonetheless entertaining – and a bit of a belter after the penalty, sorry, “penalty.” Even Andy Townsend wasn’t..no…I’ll stop there. If I start praising him, that WILL get the conspiracy theorists going…

  • June 13, 2014 at 9:36 am

    Dean

    Looking forward to reading this every day. And particularly looking forward to the Classic match links.

  • June 13, 2014 at 9:53 am

    Johnny

    Townsend DID make some more salient points than usual. Still mainly banal rubbish, though.

  • June 13, 2014 at 11:12 am

    Joe

    Even with proof a conspiracy is still a conspiracy, Don’t know how it’s not a conspiracy without ‘proof’? You just haven’t proven it yet and hence it’s crime theory. But pletikosa must have had the worst performance of a goalkeeper ever seen at a world cup, going up to catch the ball and dropping it at his feet, punching the ball straight back at attackers, diving about 10 minutes too late for shots, not blocking a penalty which he got two hands to. All I’ll say is this, a professional doesn’t do these things……

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