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2014 World Cup Roundup: Groups A & B
Brazil 3-1 Croatia
After a four year wait, the FIFA World Cup is back. Brazil ’14 kicked off on Thursday night after an opening ceremony that featured performers Jennifer Lopez and Pitbull, as well as Brazilian singer Claudia Leitte. The home support roared as the starting whistle was blown, but would be stunned into silence ten minutes later; Olic crossed low into the box and although Jelavic missed the ball completely, Marcelo unwittingly flicked it beyond a bewildered Julio Cesar and into his own net. The following quarter of an hour saw Croatia retreat into their own half in an attempt to soak up pressure, as the hosts were showing signs of frustration.
Neymar saw yellow for an intentional elbow to Modric’s face in the 27th minute, but then proceeded to run through the middle and squeeze a 20-odd yard shot past Croatia ‘keeper Pletikosa and into the bottom corner two minutes later. The final 15 minutes of the first half saw a few more chances, with Pletikosa making one smart save and a couple catches from wayward crosses.
The second half started as the first had ended; with Brazil enjoying the majority of possession and Croatia looking to hit on the counter. Corluka was booked for a challenge on Neymar, who was looking to charge into the area, but the free kick came to nothing. Two minutes later, Fred was awarded a controversial penalty, as he went down after centre-back Dejan Lovren looked to have barely touched his shoulder. Neymar dispatched the resulting penalty, and the result looked to be sealed.
Croatia missed a double-chance in the 90th minute, as Perisic shot at Cesar and Jelavic’s shot was blocked by Luiz, and Oscar rifled the ball past Pletikosa from the resulting counterattack as the game ended 3-1 to Brazil.
18 hours later, the second game in Group A kicked off, with Mexico facing Cameroon. The first half was an eventful one, with Mexico having two goals disallowed for questionable offside calls, in the 15th and 30th minutes. In between, there was a big miss from free agent Samuel Eto’o, following a good cross from Assou-Ekotto, and the first half finished goalless despite both teams’ attempts.
Mexico started the second half brightly, and after missing a one-on-one in the 48th minute, El Tri striker Oribe Peralta slotted home the rebound from Giovanni dos Santos’ shot to give his side the lead in the 61st minute. Shortly after, Peralta and Marco Fabian were taken off for Andres Guardado and Javier Hernandez respectively, as Mexico saw out the remainder of the game without conceding. It could have ended differently had Benjamin Moukandjo’s 90th-minute header gone in, but Mexico stopper Guillermo Ochoa denied Cameroon an equalizer with a magnificent save.
Netherlands 5-1 Spain
Salvador’s Arena Fonte Nova played host to the first Group B game of the tournament, in a repeat of the 2010 World Cup final: Spain vs. the Netherlands. As expected, Spain focused on retaining possession right from the starting whistle, while their opponents sat back and looked to hit on the counter. That strategy nearly paid off early on, when Sneijder was released with only Casillas to beat, but the man known as ‘San Iker’ made yet another trademark save to keep the Galatasaray midfielder from opening the scoring. Recently naturalized striker Diego Costa wasted two good chances after that, after getting on the end of two long balls, and David Silva also failed to score in the 20th minute after being one-on-one with Netherlands goalkeeper Cillessen, who tipped over his attempted lob.
Shortly afterwards, Costa won a penalty after being clipped inside the area, and Alonso scored to give his side the lead. After the opener, the Oranje started to become impatient, and Stefan de Vrij was shown yellow for a rough tackle on Iniesta. Nevertheless, the equalizer came in the dying moments of the first half, after Pique played Robin van Persie onside by some distance, and the Manchester United met Danny Blind’s cross with a flying header from outside the penalty area that flew over Casillas and into the net.
Van Gaal’s men started the second half in similar fashion, and it only took Robben seven minutes to put his team in front after poor defending by Pique. Vicente del Bosque responded by bringing on Fernando Torres for Costa shortly after the hour mark, but it mattered little as De Vrij made it 1-3 with a header from a trademark Sneijder set piece. Things were beginning to get heated, and van Persie was booked in the 66th minute for a late tackle. David Silva thought he had equalised in the 68th minute, only for it to be ruled out for offside.
Things would only get worse for the reigning champions, as Casillas unbelievably gave the ball away to van Persie who scored the fourth goal for the Dutch, and Robben added the fifth from a counterattack in the 80th minute. Spain were walking into Van Gaal’s counterattacking trap time and time again, and Robben almost scored his side’s sixth in the 87th minute, with Casillas punching away his powerful volley. Torres still found time to miss a golden chance in the 92nd minute, but it would have been scant consolation, as Spain suffered the worst ever defeat of a reigning champion in World Cup history.
Chile 3-1 Australia
In the last of the three Friday games, Chile took on Australia in a game where Alexis Sanchez yet again proved to be the difference for his team after scoring and notching his sixth assist in three games. The Barcelona winger opened the scoring in the 12th minute after side-footing home teammate Eduardo Vargas’ deflected header. Just two minutes later, Sanchez dribbled through the middle of the park and laid the ball off to Jorge Valdivia, who hit a rasping 17-yard shot into the top corner, one that gave Australia ‘keeper Matty Ryan no chance and doubled the South Americans’ lead. There was still a twist in the match though, as Socceroos forward Tim Cahill rose highest to head home from Ivan Franjic’s cross into the area to halve the deficit, and send his side into the half time break with hope of turning things around.
There were plenty of chances in the second half, with Cahill heading past Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo once more only to be denied by an offside flag, and Bravo was forced to produce a big save to keep out Bresciano’s volley shortly afterwards. Eduardo Vargas’ lobbed shot was cleared off the line later in the game, before Jean Beausejour powered a shot beyond Ryan and into the bottom corner, after Ryan had saved a one-on-one with Mauricio Pinilla.