Luiz Felipe Scolari knows a thing or two about difficult World Cup starts, and he’s advising Brazilians not to panic.
Following Brazil’s struggles in a 3-1 win over Croatia in the opening match at home, the veteran coach reminded everyone that this is nothing new to him. He readily recalled his team’s tough starts in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.
Brazil had to come from behind to beat Turkey 2-1 in 2002, while favorite Portugal just barely beat Angola 1-0 under his command in its opener in Germany. And the start in 2002 also came thanks to a controversial penalty kick in favor of Brazil, just as it was in Thursday’s win over Croatia in Sao Paulo.
Scolari was quick to point out the positive in all of it.
“I like the coincidence,” Scolari said. “But we know there’s still a lot to do, we still have six matches left.”
Brazil got off to s a slow start at its home tournament. The five-time world champion conceded an own goal less than 15 minutes into the match against Croatia and needed a contentious penalty in the second half to take the lead. The Croatians complained about the decision made by Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura when Fred fell inside the area after minimal contact from a defender. “I’ve seen the play 10 times and it was a penalty,” Scolari said. “It’s a decision by the referee. If he thinks it was a penalty, then it was a penalty.”
In 2002, Brazil also went down a goal in its opening match against Turkey, and that time it was Ronaldo and Rivaldo who helped the team overcome the early setback.
The victory also came after a disputed penalty call, when striker Luizao apparently was fouled outside the penalty area late in the match. Like the Croats, the Turkish team loudly complained that the penalty was called. Scolari’s team won six more times en route to the title in 2002.
He also recalled the tough start when he was coaching Portugal in the 2006 tournament in Germany. His team was heavily favored in its opener against Angola, but couldn’t manage more than a 1-0 result against the newcomers. Portugal went on to finish in fourth place. “The last two opening matches were just as difficult,” Scolari said.
“We just barely beat Turkey in the end of the match, and against Angola everyone thought Portugal was going to roll over them but it was not what happened.”
Scolari did not coach in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, when Spain won the title despite a 1-0 loss to Switzerland in its opener.
“Opening matches are always difficult,” Scolari said. “And this time it was especially difficult because we are playing at home.”