Brazil 3 Croatia 1: Referee plays his part in hosts' victorious World Cup opener

Brazil do not yet look a world champion team beyond Neymar and Oscar

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The Independent Football

Felipe Scolari’s joyful post-match mood was only disrupted once. It was, naturally, when the subject of referee Yuichi Nishimura came up following Brazil’s 3-1 win over Croatia. The victorious manager didn’t really want to get it, but the questioner did get a rather withering look.

It was, obviously, impossible not to discuss.

Nishimura made three highly questionable calls and they all contributed to Brazil just about claiming the three points in a largely unconvincing manner.

First there there was Neymar’s elbow on Luka Modric, then the eagerness to award a penalty for Fred’s awful dive, and finally the late decision to disrupt a Croatian attack because of an abrasive aerial challenge.

One or two such decisions were forgivable in the context of such a pressure occasion. Three of them will only perpetuate all the debate about the standard of refereeing and the perceptions about home advantage, with Sepp Blatter’s recent comments about manager challenges only revving it all up further.

None of that should obscure the principal debate from this game: Brazil do not yet look a world champion team beyond Neymar and Oscar. Their defence is nowhere near sturdy enough, their defensive midfield is pedestrian, and Hulk and Fred do not offer much extra in attack.

So much then rests on Neymar and Oscar, but they more than produced. The Chelsea playmaker got everything moving, but Neymar ultimately killed it.

The stakes and nature of the performance cannot be ignored. Just consider the context. Brazil were 1-0 down and playing poorly in their first home World Cup since the “tragedy” of 1950. Neymar is the player most charged with burying those ghosts and he could well have been buried under the pressure. He wasn’t. He rose above it. The equalising goal was a genuinely electrifying World Cup moment.

The pity is it was preceded and followed by so many more unsavoury moments.

It means this win, and the team in general, doesn't look as wondrous as they might like to believe.