Brazil produced a winning start to their defence of the World Cup thanks to a goal of outstanding quality by Kaka.
The reigning champions were not entirely convincing but will be happy enough
to have seen off their strongest group opponents.
Qualification from Group F should now be a mere formality but the performance
will leave questions in coach Carlos Alberto Parreira's mind, notably whether he
should persist with a patently unfit Ronaldo up front.
Brazil rarely reached the heights of which they are capable, though that was
greatly due to a hard-working and rugged Croatia side.
There was still plenty to savour with occasional flashes from Ronaldinho that
were a delight, and effective skill from Kaka.
The win makes it eight consecutive World Cup victories for Brazil but they
need to up their game if they are to match their efforts of 2002. They did not
appear as good a unit as, for example, Argentina in their opening match.
Croatia might feel hard-done-by though as Rangers' Dado Prso gave Lucio and
Juan an uncomfortable evening and, with better finishing, could have registered
a shock result.
Parreira had named his starting XI as far back as May 3, and when the team
sheet was produced he had been as good as his word.
In the opening minutes, it looked as though this could be vintage Brazil with
Ronaldinho full of tricks and surprises, beating no fewer than three opponents
at one stage, while Roberto Carlos attempted to get off to the perfect start
with a powerful drive from distance that soared over the crossbar.
But Croatia, in particularly Prso, showed they were in no mood to submit
quietly and forced a couple of promising positions which would have given their
opponents pause for thought.
Kaka and Roberto Carlos both went even closer then Croatian keeper Stipe
Pletikosa managed to turn aside Ronaldinho's effort that was heading for the
The game became bogged down for a period and when Ronaldinho had a direct
free-kick from a promising position he drove it into the wall, then Emerson sent
a long-range volley into the crowd.
Croatia's chances were not helped though when their captain Niko Kovac had to
be replaced by Jerko Leko late in the first half after picking up a couple of
blows to the ribs, and as it proved they laboured in midfield without him.
A minute before half-time, Kaka raised the roof with his brilliance. Picking
the ball up from Cafu, the AC Milan player drifted away from Kranjcar before
curling a delicious shot into the top left-hand corner. Pletikosa in the Croatia
goal never even got close to it.
The Croats appeared more adventurous after the break and Prso threatened to
equalise only for Dida to save low to his left with Lucio hacking clear the
Klasnic then fired a snap-shot straight at Dida after some clever build-up
play by Croatia on the edge of the Brazil box.
Finally, Ronaldo got himself into the action after Kaka had dragged the
Croatia defence out of position, and he delivered a vicious dipping shot from 25
yards that only just cleared the crossbar.
Roberto Carlos' loose pass almost let in Prso but Lucio made a vital
interception, then Ronaldinho came close to grabbing a second for Brazil with a
bullet header from Cafu's searching cross only for Pletikosa to pull off a
Darijo Srna blasted over after a clever backheel by Klasnic, before with 21
minutes left Parreira substituted the ambling Ronaldo and sent on Robinho to
inject some pace in attack.
Croatia would not roll over however and Marko Babic was left cursing after he
wriggled free of his marker and slammed a low shot from 18 yards straight at
Kaka almost drove home another beauty was a foot wide then Adriano missed a
sitter after Robinho produced a telling pass.
As the clock ticked down, Brazil tried to keep possession but they almost paid
the price for slackness when Prso delivered a good cross only for Kranjcar to
plant his header over.