Hosts, Brazil got the 2014 World Cup underway with a fortunate 3-1 win over Croatia.
Defender Marcelo opened the tournament’s scoring, courtesy of an early own goal, but boy-wonder, Neymar, leveled for the five-time champions before doubling his tally from a controversial spot-kick.
Chelsea’s Oscar, who came up with an excellent performance, much to the delight of the partisan crowd gathered at the Itaquerao Stadium, capped the night with the hosts’ last.
Both sides got off on a resounding note with veteran Ivica Olic orchestrating play from the left for the Croatians immediately after kick-off.
The Wolfsburg forward had a glorious opportunity to get the opener after seven minutes but headed wide into the ground a wonderful cross from Ivan Perisic.
Olic’s run down the left paid off four minutes later, when his dazzling cross was miss-kicked by Nikica Jelavic, only to hit the back-tracking Marcelo’s ankle into the net.
Who would have predicted the first goal of the long-awaited tournament would be an own goal? but the Brazilians needed to move on- which they did- and Stipe Pletikosa in goal for the1998 semi-finalists could only manage to punch clear a Paulinho’s effort on 22 minutes.
Being poster boy of a World Cup on home soil demands more than being a big name signing for a top European club, so Neymar highlighted his talent by beating Ivan Rkitic before cutting back the ball for Oscar, whose 25 yards shot was turned for a corner by Pletikosa.
Well enough, Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura proved he is no respecter of big names when he recorded the first booking of the tournament for the Barcelona forward for rough-handling Luka Modric in the 27th minute.
Two minutes later, he responded with the equaliser, firing a well-placed shot from 25 yards from an Oscar assist into the base of the post.
Croatia, however; were not going to give in easily and the Europeans cooked up tactics aimed and stretching the Brazilians’ defence but to no avail as both teams went into the interval tied at a goal apiece.
On resumption of play, Luis Felipe Scolari’s men poured forward looking to nail their opponent on the counter, while Croatia diminished in their attacking prowess with Olic appearing to have tired out on certain occasions.
And when Niko Kovak’s side tried to get right back into the game, they tend to lose the ball so easily in the final third, allowing the South Americans more sights at goal.
With about four to five free-kick experts in the Brazil squad, the hosts failed to convert several dead-balls, while Dani Alves’s attempt from 25 yards on 67 minutes went inches over- fine by the Croatians.
Referee Nishimura distorted the tempo of the match nine minutes after the hour mark, awarding a penalty after Fred appeared to have thrown himself down easily while backing into Dejan Lovren.
Goalkeeper Pletikosa got his hands to Neymar’s spot-kick, but the ball found the net anyways, as the 22 year old increased his international goals to 32 in 50 matches.
Croatian players, though obviously upset by the ref’s decision, managed to get the ball past Julio Cesar but not before Nishimura gave a foul for Olic’s challenge on the gaolkeeper- another controversial decision- if you may- as Cesar looked to have just missed the ball.
Vedran Corluka should have leveled for Croatia, following a Modric’s cross from the right but the centre-back headed wide in the 88th minute.
Cesar was called into action on the nick of full-time, disallowing Perisic’s shot from 20-yard.
But a quick counter from Brazil saw them finish off the match, as Oscar toe-poked his effort past Pletikosa.
Brazil now leads Group A by three points ahead of Mexico-Cameroon cracker on Friday.