2014 World Cup: Neymar brace sets up Brazil win in opener
Neymar Junior scored a brace for Brazil as they defeated Croatia 3-1 in the opening match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup at the Arena de Sao Paulo on Thursday night.
The Croatians took an early lead through an own-goal from Marcelo but a long range effort from Neymar saw the two sides going into the break deadlocked at 1-1.
Neymar then handed the home side the lead from the penalty spot midway through the second half, before Oscar added a third late in the game to send his side to the top of Group A.
The Vatreni came close to breaking the deadlock in the 7th minute when Ivan Perisic’s inswinging cross found Ivica Olic at the far post, but his downward header went wide of the upright.
The opening goal did come four minutes later when Olic broke through on the left before drilling a low cross into the box; Nikica Jelavic got a faint touch onto the ball before Marcelo bundled it into his own net.
Brazil pushed forward in search of the equaliser but Croatia goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa stood his ground, blocking a solid shot from Paulinho in the 21st minute, before parrying Oscar’s curled effort a minute later.
The hosts eventually levelled matters in the 29th minute as Neymar beat a diving Pletikosa with a low shot from outside the area, which brushed the inside the post on its way to the back of the net.
The second half started at a slow pace with neither side firing shots at goal and it was only in the 67th minute that Dani Alves fired a dipping freekick just over the crossbar after Neymar had been fouled by Vedran Corluka.
Brazil were then awarded a penalty in the 71st minute as Dejan Lovren was adjudged to have pulled down Fred inside the box; Pletikosa did get a hand on Neymar’s penalty kick but could only help the ball into the net.
Luis Felipe Scolari’s side came close to extending their lead six minutes later when a cross from Oscar found David Luiz unmarked at the far post, but he was unable to get enough contact on the ball and his header sailed wide of goal.
Croatia did get the ball into the back of the net in the 83rd minute following a goalmouth scramble, but the goal was disallowed as Olic was adjudged to have fouled the Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar.
Cesar was then called into to keep his side in the lead, diving low to his right to parry a grasscutter from Luka Modric in the 86th minute, before blocking a powerful strike from Marcelo Brozovic in the first minute of added time.
Brazil broke forward immediately and were rewarded with a third goal as Oscar outpaced two Croatian defenders before poking the ball past Pletikosa from outside the penalty area.
The win put Brazil in first place with three points, while Croatia drop to the bottom of the table with no points and a negative goal difference.
The next Group A encounter will take place on Friday night when Mexico take on Cameroon at the Estadio das Dunas in Natal.