|Neymar celebrates with Hernanes, after scoring his second goal, in Sao Paulo, on Thursday
Sao Paulo: Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari rejected claims they were favoured by the referee and heaped praise on Neymar after the forward scored twice in a 3-1 win over Croatia in the World Cup opening game on Thursday.
Scolari said his team showed great character after bouncing back from an early own goal and singled out 22-year-old Neymar for his man of the match performance.
“The only thing we want is that Neymar is happy playing ball. He’s a special player,” Scolari told reporters after the win gave Brazil a great start in their bid for a record-extending sixth World Cup title.
Brazil fell behind in the 11th minute through Marcelo’s own goal but Neymar led the comeback, scoring with a left-footed shot from outside the area and then with a controversial penalty awarded by Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura.
Croatia’s coach Niko Kovac was furious about the award of the soft 71st-minute spot kick and said the World Cup could become a “circus” if Brazil continued to get favourable calls.
Vedran Corluka, the former Tottenham defender, also revealed that Nishimura tried only to speak with the Croatia players in Japanese as they sought explanation for the decision that turned the opening match in Brazil’s favour.
“I think if this continues then no one should play against Brazil,” said Corluka. “We should just give them the World Cup and everyone can go home. I think it is embarrassing.”
Scolari, who said he agreed with the call, responded by reminding Kovac that Brazil has won the World Cup more times than any country and did it without any help from referees.
“I’m not going to comment on what my colleague (Kovac) said. The only comment I can make is that Brazil have five World Cup titles,” he said. “Those weren’t five circuses in favour of Brazil. The referee saw a penalty. It’s the referee that has to decide.”
Scolari, Neymar and the rest of the Brazil team are under intense pressure as local fans expect their team to deliver the country’s first World Cup title at home.
Neymar said the victory was “more than I ever dreamed or imagined. The merit belongs to the team as a whole, which remained cool and calm to come from behind and win.”
Scolari also heaped praise on the Brazil supporters in the 62,103 crowd in Sao Paulo. The city fans are notoriously fickle and had booed the team in their final warm-up match for the World Cup.
“Our players were excellent, they showed determination to be able to come from behind. They were fantastic,” Scolari said.
“But who really deserves praise are the fans. It was wonderful, the support we received here in Sao Paulo,” he added.
But furious Croatia defender Dejan Lovren branded the penalty awarded against him a “scandal”, questioning the referee’s right to be officiating at the showpiece event.
Unfancied Croatia took a shock lead when Marcelo put the ball into his own net early in the Group A match before Neymar levelled in front of a jubilant crowd in the Corinthians Arena.
But the European side were holding their own in the second half until Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura pointed to the spot after Fred backed into Lovren and fell.
“I think this referee doesn’t deserve to be here,” said the Southampton player. “It’s really disappointing for us because I think we were playing a good game against a big team, Brazil.
“Two billion people I think saw that it was not a penalty. I didn’t touch him. We’re really disappointed but what can you do against 12 players? You can’t do anything,” he added.
“I’m sad, that’s it, because we played a good match and the referee — it wasn’t a mistake, it was a scandal. It’s a scandal for everyone, it’s a scandal for Fifa. I think this referee shouldn’t be at this World Cup.” Frustrated Croatia coach Niko Kovac said the referee was “out of his depth.” “If anybody saw that was a penalty, let them raise their hand. I cannot raise my hand, I didn’t see it,” said Kovac.
Brazil: Julio Cesar; Daniel Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Marcelo; Paulinho (Hernanes 63), Oscar, Luiz Gustavo; Hulk (Bernard 68), Fred, Neymar (Ramires 88).
Croatia: Stipe Pletikosa; Darijo Srna, Dejan Lovren, Sime Vrsaljko, Vedran Corluka; Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic, Mateo Kovacic (Marcelo Brozovic 61); Ivica Olic, Nikica Jelavic (Ante Rebic 78).
Man of the Match: Neymar
Referee: Yuichi Nishimura (Japan)