World Cup: Neymar Double Gives Brazil A Nervy Opening Win Over Croatia
Nervy, unconvincing and fortuitous — but Brazil could scarcely care less.
On a night where its players finally stepped into the high-pressure cauldron atmosphere of the World Cup on home soil, Brazil found a way to win.
Gone are the days of “FÃºtbol Arte” or “Joga Bonito” — the beautiful game — this current generation cannot compete with that of 1970 or 1982.
But it does possess its own heroes — and when Brazil needed him most, Neymar, for so long the face of this World Cup, stepped up and delivered.
His two goals, the second a highly controversial penalty awarded in a farcical manner by referee Yuichi Nishimura, ensured Brazil triumphed 3-1 over Croatia in Thursday's opening match.
Oscar's stoppage-time strike ensured a party atmosphere in Sao Paulo — though it did not prevent protesters from assembling outside the stadium immediately after the contest.
In a week where politics has overshadowed sport, this was the result the entire country had hoped for and rounded off a day which had begun in worrying fashion.
Earlier Thursday, violence erupted in Sao Paulo as police clashed with protesters around 11 kilometers from the stadium.
Critics are furious with the Brazilian government for spending $11 billion on the World Cup instead of low-income housing, hospitals and schools.
Inside the arena, the country's president Dilma Rousseff was booed by the crowd despite her attempt to keep a low profile.
But any frustration at the political problems which have overshadowed the lead-up to the tournament were temporarily placed on hold.
As the Brazilian team lined up for the national anthem, those draped in yellow rose to salute not just their heroes — but their entire homeland.
This was not a simple song — this was a war cry, a call to arms to relieve the pain and struggle of daily life, and the disaster of 1950.
Not since that year has Brazil hosted the tournament.
For 64 years the nation has waited to exorcize the demons of its darkest day in football.
Brazil, needing just a draw to win the tournament, led 1-0 at halftime against Uruguay and appeared destined for greatness.
Medals were engraved, newspapers were published at halftime declaring Brazil champion of the world.
It was set to be the biggest celebration the country had ever witnessed — but nobody remembered to tell Uruguay.
Juan Alberto Schiaffino equalized to stun the home crowd as the visiting team began to sense fear inside the Maracana Stadium.