The Brazil star scored twice as his side came from behind to the sound of an ecstatic home crowd in Sao Paulo and kick off its home tournament with victory.SAO PAULO -- There were not enough seats, the doves that were meant to be flying into the sky detoured straight for the stands, and many of the supporters in the ground were left in darkness as a result of the need to build temporary stands.
But in the end, Brazil matched the big billing with a victory on the World Cup’s opening night, and it is Neymar – inevitably – who has steered headlines back towards football.
After all the rhetoric, Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side managed to come from behind to win 3-1 against a Croatia side which matched tits opponent for long spells, but in the end just couldn’t cope with the weight of emotion descending from the bleachers.
The big buildup was always likely to take a turn for the worse, and Marcelo’s own goal inside 11 minutes provided exactly the moment Brazilians had feared.
Ivica Olic – not for the first nor last time – found space in behind Dani Alves after a neat pass from Ivan Rakitic, and after using the Sevilla man as a decoy runner he played a low cross in towards Nikica Jelavic which Marcelo inadvertently turned home at the far post.
Croatia was always going to need a little extra though, and the players knew they had to keep Neymar quiet somehow.
The entire Croatian side – save for goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa – rushed to the referee to demand that the Barcelona man be sent off following his stray elbow caught the face of Luka Modric.
The action didn’t look particularly malicious, and Yuichi Nishimura deemed it only worthy of a yellow card, but the fact it was Brazil’s star player who was the perpetrator gave the Croatians an extra reason to want to see red. Only a minute later, they were punished by the ex-Santos man.
Oscar did a superb job to hold onto the ball in midfield before eventually feeding Neymar with some neat interplay. The star man did the rest, dragging a left-foot shot low into the net off the inside of Pletikosa’s left-hand post.
While Neymar continued to look to influence, it was Oscar who excelled for the home side. The Chelsea man constantly managed to find opportunities for a neat pass and made some key interceptions which quickly turned defence into attack.
The reaction across the entire city was extraordinary, with firecrackers lighting up the skies for 10 minutes afterwards, but that was nothing compared to the reaction to Neymar’s altogether more fortunate second.
After a low cross from the right, Fred leant backwards into Dejan Lovren and fell to the ground. Penalty, said the referee. Even the finish was lucky, with Neymar taking the long route to firing a shot at the hands of Pletikosa. Fortunately for the man of the moment, the ball still made it into the inside netting.
There was finally some room to breathe for the hosts when Oscar drilled home a low clincher in injury time, helping himself to a massively deserved goal, but even he couldn’t take the limelight away from the main man.
On Wednesday, Neymar insisted this World Cup campaign wasn’t about him but rather about the team, while Scolari claimed it is “our time” for the entire nation.
But that nation will go to bed on Thursday night chanting Neymar’s name. The headline act has ensured some familiar front page stories tomorrow.
It just had to be him.Follow Kris Voakes on