And so it begins… the hype, the glory, the parade of flags tied to foot-long plastic flag posts, perched on the partially-open windows of cars going by.
Brazil vs. Croatia
After the requisite interpretative dance numbers, and some C-list celebrities singing their iTunes best-seller, the actual football got under way. Brazil’s debut was testy-testy. Marcelo looked liked he’d come home to find his flat ransacked after his own goal allowed Croatia to go up 1-0. The Valtreni played very un-Croatia-like, sending the ball hither and thither, instead of trying to hold onto the ball in the middle of the pitch. That barrage is what caused confusion in front of the Brazilian net, and now Croatia is on top.
But hang on, that’s not how the narrative’s supposed to go. Enter Brazil’s front four, who pulled the Croatians onto the edges, allowing Neymar to find the space in the middle. That lead-up to his first goal was a good piece of effort with each Brazilian player seeming to lose the ball before retaking it from their defender and eventually getting it to the young Barcelona man. It was a nice string of play but frankly, Croatia’s keeper Pletikosa should have stopped it. He might have saved the penalty as well, had Neymar’s blast not been so powerful, and he was definitely in position to save Oscar’s nice little poke… he was just too slow. 3-1 Brazil.
Mexico vs. Cameroon
The city of Natal gave us a nice look at the weather patterns of an equatorial country. The rain fell in sheets as Mexico took on Cameroon. Apparently, the players aren’t the only one with a case of nerves as the officials wrongly took three goals away from the Mexicans. Giovani dos Santos was excellent in the number 10 role, outshining the central striker until the second half (Spurs fans thinking, “Where was that guy when he played for us?”). GDS and Porto’s Hector Herrera linked up well; they were all over a disorganized Cameroonian side who looked like they didn’t even want to be there. When the Africans did challenge, it was up the left (against Rodriguez and Aguilar, who are not the speediest of defenders) but the efforts tended to come to naught. So it was left to the man left up front, Oribe Peralta, to finally break the deadlock. Peralta started in place of Javier Hernandez, probably because he has now scored nine goals in his last seven games for Mexico, while Chicharito has had a season to forget.
Now Mexico faces Brazil in Fortaleza on Tuesday, while Cameroon takes on Croatia in the sticky air of Manaus the next day. If Brazil still have the jitters, and Mexico can grab even a point, then El Tri are suddenly in the mix. Meanwhile, the Cameroonians look disinterested right now, but the Croats may struggle in the rain forest’s oppressive heat.