Five Aside: Brazil recovers
Brazil, hosting its second World Cup and first since finishing runner-up in 1950, won its ninth straight opener with a 3-1 come-from-behind victory over Croatia in Sao Paulo Thursday. The win extends the longest streak of opening match wins of any team at the 2014 World Cup. The hosts are now unbeaten in 18 straight openers (16-0-2) after losing the first match in each of the first two World Cups. Croatia has now lost its opening match in each of its last three World Cup appearances, with its last win coming from a 2-1 victory over Italy on June 8, 2002.
The match got off to a nervous start for the hosts when Marcelo put Croatia up 1-0 in the 11th minute with Brazil's first-ever own goal in its 98-game World Cup history. Although it wasn't off a Croatian boot, it was Croatia's first-ever World Cup goal against a CONMEBOL team in four matches.
Neymar came to the rescue 18 minutes later, however, bringing his team and the home fans back into the game by slotting a 29th-minute equalizer past Croatian goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa. It was the first game-tying goal for Brazil since Ronaldo pulled one back against Japan in the 2006 Group stage.
Coming out of the half tied 1-1, the Brazilians were not on the attack as they had been when trying to level the score in the first half. Brazil had an 87-37 advantage in touches in the attacking third of the field in the first half, but only a 67-61 advantage after the break.
When Fred was fouled in the box in the 71st minute, Neymar was called upon to take the penalty kick, which he converted for his fifth penalty goal for Brazil and third to give his nation a lead. It was his 33rd international goal in 50 appearances, tying him with Jairzinho and Ronaldinho for seventh on Brazil's all-time scoring list. It also marked his seventh international multi-goal game and made him the first Brazilian to score two goals in a World Cup debut since Amarildo did in 1962. He is the fourth player in World Cup history to score multiple goals in a debut and the first since David Villa scored two in a 4-0 win over Ukraine in Spain's opening match of the 2006 tournament.
After Brazil had claimed the lead, Croatia went on the attack, forcing a 36-32 advantage in touches in the attacking third of the field from the 70th minute on. However, it wasn't enough as Oscar sealed the win for Brazil in extra time with his 10th international goal. It was the first time Brazil scored three goals in a World Cup match since its win over Chile in the Round of 16 in 2010.
Despite the early scare, host nations remain undefeated in World Cup openers (15-0-6) with the win. Brazil is now undefeated in 58 straight competitive home games since 1975 (non-friendlies) as they head into a match with Mexico on June 17.