SAO PAULO: 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.
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 equalizer 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.
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.
The vibrant opening ceremony encapsulated the color, culture and nature of Brazil, hosting the big football party first time since 1950.
Thousands of football lovers from across the world thronged the Corinthians Arena and watched the spectacle unfold with invigorating enthusiasm. However, a few stands were still empty when the 30-minute ceremony began.
A giant LED ball, placed at the centre of the stadium, displayed the welcome message in different languages, and hundreds of artists started to trickle in.
Dressed as trees, plants and flowers, the artists represented the nature of the country with background music, which had no drum tunes as yet.
Then on show was the diversity of the Brazilian people, their dance and martial arts, developed by the slaves in the 16th century for self defense.
It was followed by what Brazil is synonymous with, game of football. Several people with football as headgear came in and kids dressed as referees came to the pitch and depicted conduct of a match.
Immediately after this, the Brazilian flag was paraded onto the pitch. The giant ball opened and took the form of a flower. Brazilian singer Claudinha surfaced from under it along with Pop icon Jennifer Lopez and rapper Pit Bull.
The trio sang the official World Cup song – We Are One (Ole Ola) – but it looked Jennifer’s mike did not work.
Also, the song could not be heard clearly and the ceremony, in which about 500 people showed the vibrant colors of Brazil, concluded in a jiffy without speech of any FIFA official.
Several anti-government protests have marred the build up over the cost of the staging of the event which is expected to be no less than USD 11 billion.
Not only the protests but also the delays in construction of stadias had put the organizers on the edge.–PTI