Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.
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Brazil beat Croatia 3-1 to kick off the 2014 World Cup, in a game that had everything - an own goal, a penalty awarded to Brazil that made everyone wonder if the referee was match-fixing, and two other Brazil goals that made everyone wonder whether Croatian goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa was match-fixing.
It was, in short, not a great game.
Marcelo kicked off the scoring for Brazil after just 11 minutes, except he did so by scoring into his own net. Croatia had several decent chances early, as Brazil appeared to be only vaguely aware that the game had started, and finally a cross deflected onto Marcelo's toe and into the back of his own net.
Brazil were back to level at 29 minutes, though; all-World forward Neymar rolled a long shot off the post and in, a tame-looking shot that Pletikosa appeared to react late to. I looked it up, expecting to find that Pletikosa is 59 years old, but in truth he's only 35; his reaction time in this match was glacial, at best.
The second half plodded along at 1-1 before Brazilian striker Fred pulled off one of the most blatant dives in World Cup history, throwing himself backwards and his hands into the air at a slight touch from a Croatian defender. Somehow, this moment of terrible acting was enough to deceive referee Yuichi Nishimura, who pointed to the spot without hesitation. Neymar converted the penalty - off Pletikosa's gloves and in - to make it 2-1.
Oscar finished off the scoring for Brazil in second-half stoppage time, scoring a goal so soft that two Croatian defenders screamed at Pletikosa for allowing it in.
The win puts Brazil, who have only games with Cameroon and struggling Mexico remaining in the first round, basically already into the knockout round. Croatia, meanwhile, are faced with a loss that had four goals, none of which they scored, and a goalkeeper who appears to need someone to follow him everywhere with an oil can.
The good thing, I suppose, is that the World Cup is back. Tomorrow, Mexico starts their campaign against Cameroon, and Spain and the Netherlands face off in the first test of whether the Dutch players can stop punching each other long enough to actually play some soccer. The night gets wrapped up with Chile playing Australia, which we're calling the Countries That Can Wave At You If You Are In Antarctica derby.
Despite the oddity of Game 1, we look forward to Day 2.
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