Knee-jerk Reactions: Day One, Brazil 3-1 Croatia (Group A, Sao Paulo)
Home advantage. Having benefited from a referee that might have caused a 1970s military junta to blush, Brazil turned what looked no more promising than one point into a very flattering three. Many observers have questioned Brazil’s right to favouritism, pointing to a perceived lack of guile and flair in midfield – and Curly, Larry, and Moe at the back – but clearly they’ve not taken account of a socio-political atmosphere so toxic as to make the fragile, post-Franco Spain of 1982 and the totalitarian dystopia of Argentina 1978 look positively wholesome.
The boy king. With two goals to his name, Neymar – acting as something of a microcosm for his team – has made a better start than his performance really merited. And like his team as a whole, he benefited from the nauseating crookedness of Yuichi Nishimura’s performance. His snide elbow on Luka Modric – replete with premeditated glance – should have seen him begin his debut World Cup just as Diego Maradona ended his in 1982 – with a red. Still, he’s clearly a big game player and seems distinctly unfazed by the enormous pressure that we’re told he faces. That makes him an asset to a team that’s already got the referee warming up for them on the bench.
Shaving foam. While it’s easy to be cynical about FIFA and the bloated flatulence of the World Cup, the introduction of “invisible spray” at free kicks gives the near-the-goal set-piece added excitement. Dead-ball specialists will have no excuse at this tournament – unless they can blame the ball, the Adidas Brazuca, which seems to have been better received than its much-maligned predecessor, the Jabulani.
The three stooges. David Luiz, Marcelo, and Dani Alves are personalities. Say what you like about them, they impose themselves on the game and on their team. Like three gregarious old drunks back from the pub in fine, sing-along fettle, they’re an imposition alright. Luiz was often reckless against the Croats, while Alves left vast areas of empty space behind him every time he took off to explore a neighbouring galaxy. Marcelo scored the first Brazilian own-goal in World Cup history, largely thanks to Curly Luiz and the uncoordinated Nikica Jelavic, a man whose recent seasons seem to suggest that his earlier more productive performances were the work of a genetically-modified clone.