sport

Neymar leads Brazil to victory

Brazil opened their World Cup campaign with a 3-1 victory over Croatia courtesy of two goals from Neymar and a late third from Oscar.

Neymar, the golden boy of Brazilian football, put his side ahead in contentious circumstances in the 71st minute after Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura ruled that Fred's tumble to the floor following the slightest contact from Croatia defender Dejan Lovren warranted a penalty.

Neymar had earlier equalised with a low long-range strike which crept beyond Stipe Pletikosa's dive after Niko Kovac's side had threatened to spoil the party by taking a deserved lead in the 11th minute through Marcelo's own goal, with Oscar completing the scoring in the Group A opener in added time.

There was frenetic start in Sao Paulo with Mateo Kovacic firing the first shot in anger wide of Julio Cesar's goal with 44 seconds on the clock, before Ivica Olic - with a warning of what was to come - got away down the left and swung in a dangerous cross which David Luiz dealt with superbly.

Croatia had clearly not read the script and Olic should have opened the scoring in the seventh minute when he was found behind Dani Alves by Ivan Perisic's excellent ball in from the right but could only guide his header wide.

And in the 11th minute a nation was silenced as another superb run and cross from Olic down the left saw Nikica Jelavic get to the ball ahead of David Luiz and, although he failed to get a clean contact, the unfortunate Marcelo could only turn it into his own net.

Brazil responded and a cross from the lively Oscar only narrowly evaded both Fred and Neymar, before the Chelsea man fed Paulinho and he stung Pletikosa's palms with a rising drive from inside the box.

The Croatia goalkeeper was in action again soon after, plunging to his right to push away a curling long-range effort from Oscar after Neymar's persistence had taken him to the byline before his pull-back was cleared.

Barcelona ace Neymar then went into the book for catching Real Madrid's Luka Modric with an arm across his throat, with the Croatia players unhappy it was not red, and Jelavic tested Julio Cesar with a header from Perisic's cross with Olic screaming for a pull-back.

But Neymar then showed why he is the darling of the nation, bringing the hosts level with a low long-range effort which beat the despairing dive of Pletikosa, hit the post and sent the Arena Corinithians into bedlam.

Moments before the interval the previously excellent Olic's unwise attempt at a Zidane turn gifted the ball to Neymar, before Hulk took over and fired wastefully off target.

The second half began at a lower tempo than the first, but Brazil were still bossing possession and probing for a second without testing Pletikosa and the Olic-Jelavic axis almost combined again for Croatia at the other end of the field.

A sloppy moment from Vedran Corluka allowed Neymar to bear down on the Croatia goal and he earned a free-kick over 25 yards out when the defender came back with a desperate lunge which earned him a booking, but Dani Alves fired over the bar.

Brazil were then gifted their route to victory in the 71st minute when Fred threw himself to the ground under minimal pressure and contact from Lovren as he attempted to reach Oscar's cross, with Nishimura's verdict allowing Neymar to convert, although Pletikosa got his hands to the penalty.

It was almost 3-1 in the 77th minute when another fine Oscar cross was headed over the bar by David Luiz with Neymar closing in behind him to convert and claim a hat-trick.

Croatia pushed for a leveller but were denied when Olic was penalised for challenging Julio Cesar at the far post before Luka Modric saw a low shot saved by the Brazil goalkeeper.

Julio Cesar was called into action again to deny Perisic as the clock ran down before Oscar settled the nerves for Luiz Felipe Scolari's men as he burst clear and toe-poked home from the edge of the area as the game entered added time.