Photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
SAO PAULO — The party began for Brazilians early in the day, and likely will last long into the night.
Brazil opened the 2014 World Cup with a come-from-behind 3-1 win over Croatia at Arena de Sao Paulo on Thursday night. Neymar scored on each side of halftime to give the Brazilians a lead after Marcelo scored an early own goal. Oscar added a late tally as the Croatians pushed forward in search of an equalizer.
Neymar’s 71st-minute winner in the entertaining tournament opener did not come without a bit of controversy. Croatian defender Dejan Lovren was called for a foul in the penalty area after Fred sold a bit of contact, and Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura pointed to the spot that Neymar would score from to give Brazil the full three points.
Brazil now leads Group A, but Mexico and Cameroon will face off on Friday with a chance to pull level in the standings.
Amid festive scenes and a rowdy crowd of 62,103, Neymar helped Brazil erase a disappointing start when he found the back of the net with low shot in the 29th minute. He then became the night’s hero in the second half by breaking a 1-1 deadlock with a penalty kick that is likely to be discussed plenty given the foul that was called.
Brazil may have scored three unanswered goals to come out victorious, but they initially trailed after Marcelo accidentally poked a ball into his own net in the 11th minute. A cross from the left was nicked by Ivica Olic, and that slight touch caught Marcelo wrong-footed to put the hosts surprisingly behind.
Struggling to find clear chances despite dominating possession, Neymar sparked life into his side by netting just before the half-hour mark. Oscar slipped a pass to Neymar and the 22-year-old forward proceed to dribble upfield before hitting a classy cross-body finish from 20 yards out that stung off the bottom of the right post.
The equalizer injected excitement back into the stadium, but a superb showing from Croatia goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa kept the match level at halftime.
Croatia held tight defensively in the second half despite Brazil continuing to hold onto the ball for large stretches, but was undone after Lovren was deemed to have brought down Fred in the 69th minute. Pletikosa guessed right on the ensuing spot kick from Neymar and got a hand on the ball, but could not keep the hard shot from finding the back of the net.
Pushing numbers forward in search of an equalizer, it appeared as if Croatia had rescued a result in the 83rd minute when it found the back of the net. But Olic was called for a questionable foul on Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar prior to the goal and it was waved off as a result.
Frustrated but focused, the visitors continued to find space against Brazil’s defense until Oscar put the game to bed with a low finish to the near post. The midfielder — who also helped set up the dubious penalty kick — ran at Croatia’s back line on a counterattack and fired a right-footed shot that sneaked inside the near post in the 91st minute.
Brazil next hosts Mexico at Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza on June 17 and Croatia will look to avoid a second straight defeat a day later when it plays Cameroon at Arena Amazonia in Manaus.
What do you think of Brazil’s 3-1 win over Croatia? Think the penalty kick call was a soft one? Impressed by the Brazilians’ performance?
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