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Neymar, the referee and the fans: Brazil's successful World Cup

Brazil get the desired victory at the start of the home World Cup thanks to Neymar, the referee, and the fans - but coach Luiz Felipe Scolari knows that improvement is needed if they want to lift the trophy.

13 June 2014, 2:28pm
Neymar (L) of Brazil prepares for a penalty kick next to Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura (R) during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group A preliminary round match between Brazil and Croatia at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo, Brazil, 12 June 2014. Photo by EPA/TOLGA BOZOGLU
Neymar (L) of Brazil prepares for a penalty kick next to Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura (R) during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group A preliminary round match between Brazil and Croatia at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo, Brazil, 12 June 2014. Photo by EPA/TOLGA BOZOGLU
By John Bagratuni, dpa

Neymar's brace, some help from the Japanese referee, and big support from the local fans have given hosts Brazil the perfect start to the World Cup.

The 3-1 victory over Croatia in the tournament opener Thursday sparked widespread celebrations in the country, and coach Luiz Felipe Scolari is relieved that his team can book a place in the last 16 as early as Tuesday if they beat Mexico, and other results go their way.

"This victory gives us a chance to breathe and another victory gives me room to breathe," Scolari said, describing his players as excellent.

However, he also admitted that the Selecao needs improvement in order to reach the desired goal of lifting a sixth World Cup trophy on July 13.

"We have to improve a lot and tackle the issues we face ahead of us," he said.

On the positive side, Neymar lived up to his top billing as he first cancelled out Marcelo's own goal and then got the second from the penalty spot for the crucial lead. Oscar dazzled as well after recent criticism, setting up Neymar's first and scoring the third.

The downside included some weaknesses in defence which the Croatians exposed early on - Marcelo's misfortune after a strong run from Ivica Olic on the left wing - and late in the game.

In addition, Brazil found it hard to crack the Croatian defence and it took the disputed penalty Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura   awarded when Fred fell under a challenge from Dejan Lovren.

Each Brazilian goal sparked fireworks in the vicinity of the Sao Paulo stadium but Scolari especially singled out those for whom pyrotechnics were not permitted: the 61,000 in the stadium who patiently supported the team through the tricky tournament opener after jeering them in recent friendlies.

"The fans were wonderful, unbelievable. The support in Sao Paulo was different than anything we could have imagined. Not having felt the (first) goal was thanks to the fans," Scolari said.

Their biggest cheers were reserved for Neymar, whose age of just 22 did not show as he was as cool as an old pro and, to the delight of Scolari, remains a team player with 33 goals in 50 caps.

"He is a special player and he knows that and he needs to know we need that ... He has to play for Brazil." Scolari said.

Neymar said: "To start with a victory is very important but it's something about the whole team. We were calm and were able to turn the match around."

Neymar was named man of the match but that award could have easily also have gone to Oscar for his dazzling runs on the right wing, setting up Neymar's first and scoring the third himself.

"Oscar is someone who is pure and good, a kid every father would love to have," Scolari said. "I never had a doubt (about him). He dropped his level a bit but he showed today he is an excellent player."

Scolari had the luxury of dismissing the penalty controversy while the Croatians were fuming, with Lovren saying they were "robbed" and coach Niko Kovac calling the spot kick "ridiculous" in the latest World Cup refereeing dispute.

"If we continue this way there will be 100 penalties at the World Cup," Kovac said.

But Kovac believes Croatia have enough class, with the likes of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, to beat Cameroon on Wednesday and Mexico in the last game to progress.

"I am proud of my team and I believe we can progress from this group," he said.

In this area he was even in agreement with Scolari, who said:

"If I could bet on who would qualify from this group I would bet on them (Croatia)."

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