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Brazil 3 - 1 Croatia

Brazil 3 - 1 Croatia

Neymar stole the show as Brazil came from behind to open the World Cup with a victory over Croatia in Sao Paulo, but the match turned on a controversial penalty.

The striker responded to the responsibility of being his country's poster boy by finding the net either side of half-time after Marcelo had scored an early own goal.

Oscar cemented the result with a wonderful individual goal late on but the adulation at the Arena de Sao Paulo went to Barcelona's Neymar.

His first goal was a low, sweeping effort that crept into the net from 25 yards. His second, 19 minutes before the end, was altogether more controversial.

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Watch Neymar's stunning equaliser for Brazil against Croatia

Dejan Lovren was judged to have fouled Fred in the box. Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura pointed to the spot, despite replays showing little contact had been made. Neymar converted, the ball deflecting in off the out-stretched arm of goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa, to spark scenes of celebration.

It ensured a 10th consecutive win for Luiz Felipe Scolari's side but Brazil demonstrated flaws and fragilities. They did not play with the fluency or flamboyance that saw them swat aside Spain to win the Confederations Cup so emphatically last year.

The moments before kick-off had been typically rousing. A passionate Brazilian crowd delivered another fervent rendition of the national anthem. Croatia were no more than an afterthought to most outside the thousand travelling fans.

Neymar has scored six goals in his last four appearances for Brazil.

That soon changed. From the off, Ivica Olic worked tirelessly, chasing lost causes, committing Brazilian defenders. He might have scored after seven minutes only to head Ivan Perisic's right-wing cross narrowly wide at the back post.

Four minutes later he was at the heart of the move that stunned the home crowd into silence.

With Dani Alves committed upfield, Olic found space wide on the left. His low, teasing cross found Nikica Jelavic who made glancing contact. It was enough to catch Marcelo off balance. The Real Madrid defender watched on as the ball deflected off his ankle and rolled into the net beyond goalkeeper Julio Cesar.

Brazil were struggling for rhythm; insipid not inventive. Neymar was fortunate to escape a nasty first-half incident - when he caught Luka Modric in the face with a swinging forearm - with only a booking.

But when they needed a moment of magic, the man whose image had been splashed across every newspaper and TV station in Brazil provided it.

Chelsea midfielder Oscar fought through two challenges and found Neymar.

Chris WaddleBBC Radio 5 live summariser at the Arena de Sao Paulo

"Unfortunately the referee probably made the headlines when we wanted to be talking about Neymar or Luka Modric instead.

"Croatia have been hard done by. The referee has cost them a point that they thoroughly deserved. I don't think Brazil have been that convincing. They are a good side but have had a little bit of good fortune."

When the striker turned for goal, moving the ball on to his left foot, he had one thing in mind. The contact was not pure but the shot was unerringly accurate, creeping in from 25 yards, glancing the right post on its way.

On the touchline Scolari was swamped by his players as all 23 Brazilian squad members rejoiced in the overwhelming sense of relief. Fireworks echoed in the streets around the ground.

Croatia, though, were far from finished. Dejan Lovren provided solidity and strength in defence; Ivan Rakitic, the spark and substance in midfield.

For long periods, Brazil struggled to find the zip in their passing, or the vim and vigour in their movement, to elude markers and dismantle Croatia's effective and organised defensive system.

Dani Alves curled a dipping free-kick just over but that was the sum of Brazil's second-half efforts as the final 30 minutes approached. That was to change.

Oscar put a gloss on the final score with a tremendous late goal that his man-of-the-match performance warranted. With Croatia committed upfield, he burst forward and toe-poked in from 25 yards, taking Pletikosa by surprise with a low drive.

Brazil are off and running.

Posted on Thursday 13th June 2013

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