It was far from vintage Brazil at times, impatient in possession
and unsure in defense, but once they hit full stride they were
impossible to resist - the inimitable Neymar and ebullient Oscar
taking the game by the scruff of the neck.
After falling behind to an 11th minute own goal from unfortunate
defender Marcelo, forward Neymar equalized with a terrific strike
from outside the box before converting the softest of penalties late
in the second half.
Midfielder Oscar capped an outstanding performance with a goal of
true quality in stoppage time that sealed the three points for
Brazil and brought an enormous roar of relief from the 62,103 crowd
at Sao Paulo's Corinthians arena.
For 22-year-old Neymar, scoring twice on a night when the World Cup
returned to the spiritual home of football was beyond his wildest
"I’m very happy, really happy indeed, more than I ever dreamed or
imagined," the man of the match told reporters.
"We started off on the right foot, with a victory.
"The merit belongs to the team as a whole, which remained cool and
calm to come from behind and win."
And how the home fans reveled in the win. A delirious, dancing sea
of yellow hailing the victory as the first step towards a
record-extending sixth World Cup title.
The buildup to this World Cup has been tarnished like no other, with
simmering public anger over the $11 billion spent on construction
projects while much of the country struggles to keep itself out of
poverty boiling over on to Brazil's streets.
Scattered violent protests before the game were a reminder that many
locals remain frustrated over the billions spent to host the
tournament, but for 90 special minutes it was football's chance to
In the wake of the embarrassing, hostile reception from fans at last
year's Confederations Cup, Brazil President Dilma Rousseff and FIFA
chief Sepp Blatter chose not to address the opening ceremony.
But the supporters made their feelings clear about the lack of
investment in social infrastructure in Brazil, directing obscene
chants at President Rousseff during the game and booing loudly when
she was seen celebrating the goals on the stadium screens.
Winning the World Cup on hallowed, home soil would no doubt go some
way to soothing some of Brazil's wounds and the Selecao are now six
more wins away from achieving that.
Croatia clearly had not read the script and, after forward Ivica
Olic headed narrowly wide, they took the lead in the 11th minute
through Brazil's first ever World Cup own goal.
Olic's low cross from the left went through the legs of Brazil
skipper Thiago Silva, clipped Nikica Jelavic's foot and bounced in
off Marcelo with keeper Julio Cesar left helpless.
A moment's stunned silence was quickly replaced by chants of
"Brazil! Brazil!" as the crowd pleaded with the home side to strike
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Inevitably it would be Neymar who answered their prayers.
marked his 50th appearance for Brazil with a superb equalizer in the
29th minute, dragging a low shot into the corner of the net past the
despairing dive of Stipe Pletikosa.
Neymar's 33rd international goal arrived in more controversial
circumstances after Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura awarded the
home side a 71st-minute penalty.
Brazil striker Fred fell to the ground under the slightest contact
from Dejan Lovren and, after Nishimura pointed to the spot, the
referee was surrounded by furious Croatian players questioning the
Once the dust had settled, Neymar kept his cool to stroke the
Croatia coach Niko Kovac warned that the World Cup could become a
"circus" after Nishimura's decision.
"This was ridiculous today, and if we continue in this way we will
have a circus," he told reporters at a post-match news conference
dominated by questions about the spot kick.
"If that's a penalty, we don't need to play football any more. The
lads played their hearts out but that was outright thuggery by a
referee who was just out of his depth for a game of this magnitude."
Kovac's Brazil counterpart, Luiz Felipe Scolari, did not agree with
his counterpart's thoughts on the contentious award.
“I'm not going to comment on what my colleague said. The only
comment I can make is that Brazil has 5 World Cup titles. Those
weren’t five circuses in favor of Brazil.
"I perfectly understand my colleague’s remarks, and I respect them
... But I don’t see any favoring of Brazil in those five World Cup
While debate about the penalty will continue long after Thursday's
game, there was no doubting the class of Oscar's strike that wrapped
up Brazil's win.
Bursting clear of the tiring Croatia defense in stoppage time, he
toe-poked the ball home to seal Brazil's 10th successive victory and
give them the perfect start to their World Cup campaign.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)
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