SAO PAULO, Brazil -- It didn't take controversy very long to rear its head at the World Cup.
Host Brazil began what it hopes will be its road to a sixth World Cup championship with a brilliant performance by Neymar in a 3-1 victory over Croatia yesterday in the opening game of the World Cup.
Brazil needed to rally for the win and got some help when the referee controversially awarded a penalty kick.
Neymar scored twice in his World Cup debut to fuel the rally, connecting on the equalizer with a brilliant strike and then scoring what turned out to be the game-winner on the disputed penalty kick in the 71st minute that left the Croatians irate.
"It's ridiculous," Croatia coach Niko Kovac said. "If we continue in this way, we will have a circus."
Oscar added an insurance goal a minute into stoppage time off a counterattack.
Most of the night belonged to the 22-year-old Neymar, who is shouldering the burden of trying to lead Brazil to its first World Cup title in a dozen years. After his virtuoso performance, he received a standing ovation from the crowd of 62,103 when he was replaced by Ramires in the 88th minute.
"I think I am even happier than I dreamt," Neymar said. "To start on the right foot is so important. The whole team deserves merit. We were very calm and we were able to turn the game around."
The Croatians felt the night might have belonged to referee Yuichi Nishimura, who ruled that Dejan Lovern had taken down Fred in the penalty area in the 69th minute. Replays showed that there was little contact.
"If that's how we start the World Cup, we better give it up now and go home," Kovac said. "If you continue like this you will have 100 penalties. I think 2.5 billion people watching on TV saw this was not a penalty."
Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari thought otherwise. "Millions didn't see the penalty?" he said. "Well, the referee did."
On the ensuing kick, Neymar took two steps to his left and did a stutter step before drilling a shot that goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa got his hands on. But its force was too great and wound up in the upper left corner for a 2-1 Brazil lead.
Neither the day nor the game started well for Brazil or its team. Before kickoff, police used tear gas and rubber bullets to quell protests by several hundred Brazilians who are opposed to the high cost of the games ($11 billion).
Then came a tough start when Brazil fell behind after a cross by Croatia's Ivica Olic bounced off the leg of left back Marcelo for an own goal in the 11th minute.
Neymar received a yellow card in the 27th minute for making contact with an elbow while jumping for a ball.