Sao Paulo: Five-time champions Brazil brushed aside the embarrassment of opening the football World Cup with an own goal to defeat a resolute Croatia 3-1 and set the ball rolling in the biggest sporting spectacle on earth here.
Considered the spiritual home of soccer, Brazil shrugged off anti-tournament protests and doubts of under-prepared infrastructure to start the carnival with a sparkling opening ceremony, which was, however, not without minor glitches.
The nearly 40-minute long routine had pop stars Pit Bull and Jennifer Lopez belting out the official song for the tournament — ‘We are one’. The ceremony sought to celebrate the cultural and natural heritage of Brazil before the beautiful game took centrestage.
As expected, Brazil opened the scoring but much to the horror of the packed stadium, it ended up being a goal for Croatia when Marcelo passed the ball, which had deflected off Nikica Jelavic’s feet, into his own net.
But wonder boy Neymar expectedly emerged as the 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,” Croatian 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.