I'm probably not the most impartial writer when it comes to Croatia so I'll try and be as objective as possible. Grade me on the curve, please.
The game started off well enough for the underdogs as Ovica Olic was on the end of a cross which, quite frankly, he should've scored off of. The dropoff from Mario Mandzukic, future backup for Karim Benzema (I can dream, at least let me have that today), to the backups is enormous. Still, Croatia were unafraid of the hosts and playing fast, attacking football. Even though Brazil looked to be the aggressors, the reward for Croatia came in the 15th minute as Olic burned down the sideline and whipped in a cross which eluded everyone but Marcelo as the Real Madrid defender put the ball into the back of his own net.
However, Brazil recovered relatively fast and even though Croatia had at least two more chances which a striker of Mandzukic's quality woud've put away, it wasn't enough. Brazil kept coming in droves, often attacking down the right and exposing Croatia's defensive vulnerabilities. Eventually the dam broke with Neymar getting away with a yellow after elbowing Modric in the face and unleashing a soft distance shot a couple minutes later which slipped by Stipe Pletikosa to tie the game. Brazil kept attacking but the sides went into the half level at 1-1.
The second half started much better for Croatia with Modric and Rakitic starting to exert their influence on the proceedings. Their midfield partner, and potential Madrid target, Mateo Kovacic had been mostly invisible but the Croats were picking up steam. Then, on a Brazil counterattack, Fred found his way into the box and as he was backing up Dejan Lovren he fell and that was that. Penalty kick. After Neymar stuttered a half dozen times in the run-up to it, he fired it right into Pletikosa's hands but it wasn't enough and Brazil took the lead at 2-1.
Even though David Luiz could've sealed the game minutes later with a header, Croatia were urgently looking for the equalizer and would've had it as the managed to put the ball into the net but not before the referee whistled for a foul against Olic as he made contact with Julio Cesar. Croatia kept committing men forward but that's where the game ended as Oscar led a counterattack and finished it off with a neat shot which should've been saved by Pletikosa.
Final: 3-1 in favor of Brazil. Marcelo somewhat rebounded pretty quickly from what could've been the biggest mistake of his life due to an early own goal. His attacks were solid, if unspectacular, and he was bailed out by the fact that Dani Alves was wildly inconsistent in his surges forward. Modric, on the other hand, was superb with the hand dealt to him. Missing his main target up top, Luka was all over the place but in a good way. His passes were great and he was the best offensive threat for his team. Shame that Mandzukic was out due to a silly technicality but the Modric-Rakitic pairing could be a treat to watch in the coming games.
What's next for each team: Brazil will take on Mexico on Tuesday while Croatia will face Cameroon on Wednesday.
Madridistas in action tomorrow: Sergio, Xabi and Iker face the Netherlands in group B action.