Photo: Neymar celebrates his second goal against Croatia as he helped Brazil win the World Cup opener 3-1. Neymar scored a brace in the game while Oscar got the other. Marcelo scored an own goal to gift Croatia the lead in the 11th minute. (Getty Images)
The FIFA World Cup finally kicked off with hosts Brazil taking on Croatia. The Selecao was expected to come away with victory but was made to sweat and work hard by an experienced and composed looking Croatia team with Luka Modric dictating their play. The Croats were undone by a brace from superstar Neymar and a late Oscar strike losing 3-1 on the night after taking the lead early.
The game started with Brazil on the front foot from the first whistle but it was Croatia who had the first effort at goal. 20 year old Mateo Kovacic didn't hesitate to pull the trigger from about 22 yards in the first minute. The first genuine chance came on 8 minutes when Ivan Perisic's cross was headed wide by Ivica Olic from 6 yards out and he should have at least hit the target.
Croatia took the lead three minutes later when Olic broke down the left side into the space left by Dani Alves and his low cross was missed by Nikica Jelavic but Marcelo couldn't sort out his feet and scored an own goal. Oscar then stepped up his game trying to match Modric who was pulling the strings for Croatia.
Brazil equalised on 29 minutes when Oscar fought for the ball with Ivan Rakitic and it fell to Neymar whose shot from about 25 yards crept inside the left hand post past the out-stretched left hand of Stipe Pletikosa. The crowd then started to buzz and gave the Samba boys a big lift.
Brazil then started to settle in their rhythm, finding their passes and getting Neymar more involved. The final chance of the first half fell to Hulk whose shot from just inside the penalty area went high and wide on 45 minutes, sending both teams back in the dressing room locked at 1-1.
The second half was less attractive with the battle being fought in the middle of the park. Oscar continued where he left off in his man-of-the-match performance while Modric was the man trying to carve out an opening for Vatreni.
Brazil took the lead when they were controvertially awarded a penalty by referee Nishimura. Fred threw himself to the ground with very little or no contact from Dejan Lovren. Neymar stepped up and converted via the hands of Pletikosa on 71 minutes.
Croatia then stepped up their attacking play and was denied a goal in the 79th minute when Julio Cesar lost the ball from a cross but was deemed to be fouled by Olic who challenged him. Perisic found the back of the net but it was ruled out for a foul on Cesar.
Brazil was panicking at the end defensively but Oscar put the result beyond any doubt with one of his trademark penetration runs on 90 minutes. He got the better of Verdan Corluka before squeezing his shot past Pletikosa who should have done better once again.
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