Steve Braunias' World Cup Diary: day 1
WHAT WE NOW KNOW
Neymar’s face is not, in fact, stupid.
Claims made the other day about Neymar’s face are stupid. Yes, off the pitch, as Brand Neymar, he looks fatuous, supercilious, etc, but it was obvious as soon as he took the field that he has depth, purpose, meaning.
The commentator rightly raved about Oscar but this was Neymar’s game, the way he took responsibility, dropping deep to gather the ball and direct the play, volunteering for every dead-ball. His first touch was sublime and his second touch was, you know, sublimer.
He’s a star. He played like one. On this form, he can lead his team to win the tournament, but there was something incoherent about Brazil’s performance. They didn’t know what they were doing in defence and they made it up as they went along in midfield. They have the skill to get away with it, but where was the plan? Croatia frightened them; Spain, Germany, or Argentina could frighten them to death.
But they were marvellous to watch, fast and fluid, sentimental as ever – they bothered to pay respects to the watching Kaka, that God-bothering, over-rated fathead.
As for the game, it may well have been the best opening match of football in modern World Cup history. End to end action! Great saves! Beautiful passing! And only one cheat.
Luka Modric has a new haircut.
For years, the Croatian maestro has passed as a Tom Petty lookalike, all toothy with long, straight blonde hair. He created perfectly formed masterpieces.
It was a shock to see that he’s chopped it all off. He now looks like Johnny Rotten in 1975 – before the Sex Pistols, just another schnook, with his sunken eyes, his fish-and-chip pallor, his thin, hunched shoulders. He stuck his limbs out.
Croatia’s goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosaspends several weeks every year in a monastery.
This superb fact was courtesy of the commentator – that dozy nasal English bore who calls every major international football tournament on New Zealand TV. He’s competent and he knows what he’s talking about but he doesn’t exactly rise to the occasion.
It would help if he had some old pro next to him as comments man. Most old pros have nothing to say but at least they’d break the tedium of that nasal monologue.
It’s going to be a drag having his voice around for the next four weeks.
Fred’s a cheat.
That was never a penalty. Fred fell over. Drop dead, Fred.