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World Cup 2014: day one review

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World Cup 2014 opened yesterday with the Brazil vs. Croatia game that saw the hosts manage an untidy and controversial 3-1 victory.

The messy win began with the Brazilian’s nervous play which resulted in an own goal by Marcelo. The score gave the visitors the early lead, which was deserved given the play in the early stages of the game, but was a poor way to open the World Cup’s scoring.

The controversy stemmed from the questionable nature of Brazil’s second and third goals. The second goal, a penalty called for a grab in the box on Brazilian striker Fred, was replayed from every angle. The video showed that although the defender’s arms and hands made contact with the striker, his movement was not impeded and in fact Fred enhanced the impact of the contact with an artless dive.

These are judgment calls to be made at the referee’s discretion, and Japan’s Yiuchi Nishimura was within his rights to make the call. Unfortunately, it was the wrong call as the offense was not worthy of the punishment and the result of the call was a nearly irrevocable change in the game.

The third goal, a nice solo run by Oscar, had as its origin a collision between players that showed Ramires running into a Croatian player and bowling him over. The play should have been called for a foul. It did not seem a serious offense, or an intentional transgression, but instead a collision of player vying for control of the ball. But the Brazilian seemed to get there late, provoke the contact and knock the Croat down. It was certainly an infraction which should have been called and which would have stopped he play cold at mid-field.

The shame is that both calls, the one made and the one not made, favored the hosts and cost the visitors a goal each. Such miscues must be guarded against and they simply cannot happen in a World Cup where so much effort, expended over so many years, rides on a single game’s outcome. This is when refs have to get it right and where judgment and discretion must be seen to be fair. These two calls had the fortunate fate of having been witnessed by billions globally, leaving FIFA to contend with the inescapable issue of the fair play of their officiating.

As to the other takeaways from the played game itself, we have two major ones. First, Brazil is nothing without Neymar in a way few other contenders, save Argentina, can be seen to be. Second, Croatia played the cup favorite even for most of the game and should have an easier time with both Cameroon and Mexico, giving them hope that if they do not lose heart and put together another similar effort they will progress.

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