By Sportswriter Pan Yi
SAO PAULO, June 12 (Xinhua) -- Star striker Neymar stroke twice to help five-time champions Brazil rally to beat Croatia 3-1 in the World Cup opener here on Thursday.
Midfielder Oscar scored an injury-time goal to seal the win for the hosts.
Neymar, the Barcelona tailsman, said after the match, "I'm very very happy to score two goals to help the team win the match. I'm happy that we react strongly to turn the match around. We have a strong squad. If we don't play connected we wouldn't win the match."X Brazil coach Luiz Scolari said, "Neymar has great quality, and he has a lot of pressure not to score. Today he scored two goals. All we want is Naymar to be happy playing. He plays for the team and we also play for him. He doesn't need anyone to tell him he is the best in the world. He just need to continue playing for the team, for Brazil."
The most dramatic scene emerged in the 11th minute which saw the first goal of the World Cup. But it was an own goal made by Brazilian defender Marcelo.
Croatia midfielder Olic broke Brazilian defense in the left, and hit a low cross towards goal which was flicked on by Nikica Jelavic at the front post. Marcelo could not stop his feet in time and touched the ball home.
It was the first-ever own goal in a World Cup opener in history.
The early deficit pushed Brazil into the corner but ignited their fighting spirit. They controled the game soon with their brilliant individual skill.
Forcing the Croatians to make errors, the Brazilian team laid siege to the opponents' goal.
On 29 minutes, Neymar beat Croatian defenders, leaving them in his wake before setting himself and shooting across Croatian keeper Pletikosa with his left foot.
It was Neymar's fifth goal in his last six competitive games for Brazil. However, the Barcelona tailsman got the first yellow card of the World Cup for a forearm smash on Croatian playmaker Modric in the first half.
The second half witnessed a balancing start but the turning point came in the 71st minute when the Japanese Umpire Nishimura pointed straight away to the spot after Brazilian veteran forward Fred was taken down in the area by Lovren. Neymar took a stutter-step approach and shot to Pletikosa's right. The Croatian keeper managed to get a hand on, causing a gasp from the crowd, but the shot was too powerful and found its way into the goal.
Croatia coach Niko Kovac said, "I'm a sporting person, I know I should not blame the referee. but our team deserve at least a point from the game."
"Whenever we play, the host team has some advantage, but we are playing a sport match, we have the rules, the FIFA has respect to both teams. The referee is ridiculous, if we continue with that we will have a crisis. I'm the first to say that, because we are the first team to play. It's not just the penalty. The third goal, it's a foul."
However, Scolari told the press, "It's up to the referee to decide if it's a penalty, for me it's also a penalty. I watched maybe 10 times of the play and I think it's a penalty."
Neymar, the Man of the Match, was substituted by Ramires on 88 minutes. But Brazil punished Croatia after the latter squandered several scoring chances.
In injury time, midfielder Oscar weaved his way through the Croatian backline and fired a low strike from long range, catching Pletikosa off-guard.
Both teams fielded their strongest starting 11 and shared the same formation 4-2-3-1. Brazil were superior in statistics with 58 percent of ball possession and 9 shots on target against Croatia's 4. Brazil deserved the win tonight.
This was the third encounter between the two teams. The first was a friendly held in 2005 in Split that finished 1-1. The second took place in the opening round of the 2006 World Cup in Berlin, when Brazil secured a 1-0 victory.
This was also the fourth time that Brazil played a World Cup opener. In the previous curtain-raisers, Brazil notched two wins (4-0 over Mexico in 1950 and 2-1 against Scotland in 1998) and one draw (0-0 against former Yugoslavia in 1974).