SAO PAULO, June 13 (PTI): Brazil launched their FIFA World Cup campaign in style with a 3-1 victory over Croatia in a free-flowing opening match as the biggest sporting spectacle on earth began here on Thursday.
Considered the spiritual home of the game, Brazil shrugged of anti-tournament protests and doubts of under prepared infrastructure as the football carnival began with a sparkling opening ceremony.
The host nation, however, started on the wrong foot as Marcelo scored an own goal much to the surprise of the home crowd.
Then wonder boy Neymar emerged as a true hero as he rose to the occasion by scoring an equaliser before converting a highly controversial penalty to send the 60,000 plus gathering into an ecstatic frenzy at the Corinthians arena.
The 22-year old, playing his first World Cup game, was under tremendous pressure and scrutiny for his prodigious talent and the star Barcelona striker did exactly what was expected of him.
To put the icing on the cake, Oscar, whose selection was debated, toed the ball from a distance into the goal post in dying moments to complete the win.
Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura though was dubbed as villain for his dubious decision to award penalty, leaving Croatian team and their fans heartbroken. Fred had backed into Croatian defender Dejan Lovren and fell over, an act which Nishimura punished.
�If anybody saw that was a penalty, let them raise their hand. I cannot raise my hand. I didn�t see it,� Crotian coach Niko Kovac fumed.
�If you continue in this vein then there will be 100 penalties during this World Cup.�
But in one of the most exciting opening games in a World Cup, witnessed by 12 heads of states, Brazil made a prefect start in their quest to lift the Cup for a record sixth time.
The victory triggered celebration across Sao Paulo when hours before the opening ceremony, police had to fire tear gas and rubber bullets to defuse a fresh protest near a subway station.