Brazil opened the World Cup with an uneven 3-1 win over a stubborn Croatia in Sao Paulo thanks to two goals from Neymar.
Brazil’s talisman opened his account for the tournament with a long range effort to level the scores after Marcelo had put through his own goal to give Croatia a shock lead at the Arena de São Paulo.
Neymar added his second from the penalty spot after Dejan Lovren had been judged to have tripped Fred, before Oscar capped victory for the hosts with a late third.
The hosts took to the field in buoyant form in front of their home fans but the emotions on display as the 61,000 capacity crowd roared through the national anthem where tempered when Croatia made the brighter start, Ivica Olic heading wide from Ivan Perisic’s cross inside ten minutes.
Luis Felipe Scolari’s men failed to heed the warning posed by Croatia’s threat out wide, and they were made to pay when Olic’s cross was glanced on by Nikica Jelavic and Marcelo turned the ball past a stranded Julio Cesar to put the underdogs in front.
That shocked the hosts into life with Oscar crossing dangerously for Neymar whose far-post lunge narrowly failed to connect, but it was the Chelsea forward’s clever through-ball for Paulinho that marked the game’s first real moment of magic, with Stipe Pletikosa reacting well in the Croatia goal to beat the ball away.
The reprieve came for the hosts when midfield lynchpin Luis Gustavo, so often the key figure as Scolari has changed the fortunes of the Seleceao in the build up to the Copa des Copas, won the ball on the halfway line as Modric hesitated and fed Neymar, whose speculative drive beat Pletikosa and spun in off the post.
Neymar could be considered lucky to have remained on the pitch after landing a stray arm in the face of Modric moments earlier, just minutes after Jelavic had planted a tame header into the arms of Julio Cesar as Croatia threatened a second.
In the second half Croatia boss Niko Kovac withdrew the ineffective Mateo Kovacic and introduced Marcelo Brozovic in a bid to match up to Brazil’s physicality in midfield, but it was winger Perisic who looked to turn the tide of the game with a series of powerful runs from the right wing.
Perisic was the outstanding figure for Croatia as Modric and the much-fancied Ivan Rakitic were bullied into submission by the imperious Luis Gustavo, but it was centre-half Lovren who grabbed the headlines as his challenge on Fred was harshly judged to have warranted a penalty.
Neymar dispatched the kick to give the hosts the lead for the first time, and there was still time for Perisic to have a goal disallowed for an Olic challenge on the Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar before Oscar broke from midfield to finish off Kovac’s side and send the home fans into delirium.
Croatia had applied lots of pressure towards the later stages of the match and could feel hard done by the the penalty and the soft call against Olic. Nonetheless, the hosts collect all three points and now have a firm grip atop Group A.
Watch the official match highlights below –