Thursday, 12 June 2014

AND SO THE WORLD CUP BEGINS: Brazil 3-1 Croatia with a helping hand from the referee (as predicted)

Neymaaaaaaaaar: Brazil open their account
And so it begins. The careful manipulation of the greatest footballing event on earth. With protests and stun grenades in the streets, FIFA couldn’t afford to see hosts Brazil get off to a bad start.

But they did. Right from that early Marcelo own goal, Filip Scolari’s fired-up side found themselves frustrated and flustered against a determined Croatia, who were never markedly outplayed by the Samba nation.

Neymar, as expected, produced the equaliser… but after Stipe Pletikosa’s early bravery his long range, poorly hit shot looked gettable for an international stopper.

IF YOU DON'T ACCEPT MY VIEW, TRY THIS FROM CROATIA COACH NIKO KOVAC: "If that's how we start the World Cup, we'd better give it up now and go home. We talk about respect, that wasn't respect, Croatia didn't get any. If that's a penalty, we don't need to play football anymore. Let's play basketball instead, it's a shame."

The second half just never unfolded like Brazil hoped it would. With the crowd getting increasingly agitated, the Neymar penalty winner I’d been predicting all day on twitter (feel free to check my timeline at was almost inevitable.

Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura watched Fred control the ball poorly and lean in to the defender before tumbling dramatically backwards. And without hesitation, he pointed to the spot. It was Fred’s most important – possibly his only – meaningful contribution in Sao Paulo. And as Ryan Giggs confirmed afterwards, it was NEVER a penalty.

Robbed: Croatia reaction
Neymar stuck the penalty away – though Pletikosa got both hands to it – and my twitter timeline was immediately swamped by those shocked that I had so accurately predicted the “Brazil must win” scenario.

The white sangoma had struck again, they said. I had thrown the bones. A dodgy Neymar penalty, just as I predicted. But in truth, it was always going to happen. There is no sorcery here. As I told Bloemfontein Celtic-bound Bevan Fransman as events unfolded, when you’ve watched as many World Cups as I have, you expect the dodgy decisions and obedient referees.

Croatia then pummeled the Brazil goal at 1-2 down and could have levelled twice before they put the ball in the net, only for Nishimura to call a foul on Julio Cesar in the Brazil goal. He didn’t even have the ball in his hands. A second glaring mistake.

Oscar – sparkling throughout – toe-punted a third past the hapless Pletikosa to seal the win and leave “experts” grovelling about an “emphatic” Brazilian victory on televisions globally in numerous different languages.

Oscar thanked God for the win, he should
have thanked Japanese ref Nishimura

Of course, it’s their job to “sell” the tournament when corporations pay millions to screen the World Cup. Around the world, analysts will talk of a bright, lively opening game. Four goals is a lot better than usual for the World Cup kick-off. Great start for the hosts.

At least the former Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs, guesting in South Africa, had the gumption to admit: "Fred went down easily. It wasn't a penalty. The referee made a clear mistake." But then: “We’re off to a flying start, an emphatic win for Brazil,” said Premier League presenter John Dykes at the end of SuperSport’s analysis which goes the length of Africa. Bollockz.

In truth, particularly if you’re Croatian, there was only injustice to speak of. The penalty, the disallowed goal. Obvious and calculated. FIFA know where their bread is buttered.

They can put up with a shoddy Opening Ceremony with a terrible sound system. They can accept unfinished stadia. But they can’t risk further angering the Brazilian people after their $11 BILLION spend on this World Cup.

AND HOW ABOUT THIS FROM South American football expert Tim Vickery on the BBC: "Protests are planned outside the stadiums for every game. How this pans out I don't think anyone knows for sure. Two situations could make things worse - police reaction, or the nightmare scenario for Brazilian authorities which is Brazil exiting the tournament early.
"Disappointing performances on the field could fuel the fire of anger. You do wonder if Brazil get hometown decisions more often because it was would be a disaster if Brazil exited this tournament early."

Any rational governing body would have a look at both Nishimura’s whistling and Pletikosa’s keeping. But they won’t. It’s done. We move on.

On day two, we see Mexico v Cameroon at 6pm CAT (a real chance for Africa to get off to a flying start, Mexico needed a play-off against New Zealand to get to Brazil); the momentous rerun of the 2010 World Cup final between holder Spain and Holland at 9pm and Chile against lowest ranked Australia at midnight.

Great games in prospect. But for me, the opening night leaves a sour taste. Not many will say that, but I’m afraid it’s the truth.

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  1. Croatia always looks for an excuss! They obviously had big expectations but they need alot of more practice in order to beat Brazil. Croats, you will go back home i no time :)

  2. The penalty was "soft" but again the defender was foolish!! Why hold on a striker's shoulders knowing very well that South Americans have mastered the "skill" of diving??!! The disallowed was fair...and the ref blew the whistle way before the ball went into the net!! Your conspiracy theory, Neal, are just that...conspiracy theories!!