Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Steven Beacom: Brazil deliver but ref suffers a real shocker

No way, ref: Yuichi Nishimura is surrounded by irked Croatia players after awarding Brazil a controversial penalty last nigh

Pele, Garrincha, Carlos Alberto, Didi, Tostao, Gerson, Rivellino, Ronaldinho, Jairzinho, Falcao, Romario, Socrates, Zico, Ronaldo, Cafu, Kaka and a few more.

If Neymar's opening night in the 2014 World Cup finals is anything to go by, in a month's time he will be added to that illustrious list of Brazilian football icons.

Two goals in a dramatic 3-1 comeback victory for the hosts was a sensational way to start the eagerly awaited tournament for Brazil's poster boy.

Talk about making an entrance – Neymar da Silva Santos Junior... you are welcome to this party.

In the build-up there had been a world of expectation placed on the Barcelona playmaker but the famous yellow number 10 shirt did not weigh heavy on his shoulders last night as he inspired his side to an important success.

The pressure told on referee Yuichi Nishimura though.

The Japanese official made THREE big calls – all against Croatia and all in favour of Brazil.

First, much to the dismay of the Croatians, there was only a yellow card for Neymar when his swinging forearm connected with Luka Modric's face.

Seconds later the 22-year-old raced forward to strike a low left foot shot into the net, equalising an earlier own goal by Marcelo.

It got worse for Croatia after the break when Nishimura awarded one of the softest penalties in World Cup history, declaring that Southampton's wantaway defender Dejan Lovren had pulled Brazilian Fred down to the turf inside the box. He hardly touched him!

Brazil's Neymar celebrates with  Hulk after Neymar scored his sides first goal during the group A World Cup soccer match between Brazil and Croatia, the opening game of the tournament, in the Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday, June 12, 2014.   (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
Brazil's Neymar celebrates with Hulk after Neymar scored his sides first goal during the group A World Cup soccer match between Brazil and Croatia, the opening game of the tournament, in the Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday, June 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
FORTALEZA, BRAZIL - JUNE 12:  Brazil watch the opening match in the late evening sun at the FIFA Fan Fest on June 12, 2014 in Fortaleza, Brazil.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Brazil fans watch the opening match in the late evening sun at the FIFA Fan Fest on June 12, 2014 in Fortaleza, Brazil. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - JUNE 12:  Brazil fans hold a giant shirt shaped flag during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group A match between Brazil and Croatia at Arena de Sao Paulo on June 12, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - JUNE 12: Brazil fans hold a giant shirt shaped flag during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group A match between Brazil and Croatia at Arena de Sao Paulo on June 12, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

It was a calculated move by the striker. Right said Fred, I'll test the referee by falling in a heap and the man in the middle failed.

Up stepped Neymar and while Stipe Pletikosa got a hand to the strike, it ended up in the net. That earned Brazil's hero his 33rd international goal in 50 appearances.

Neymar had delivered a double on the biggest night of his life as the stadium in Sao Paolo erupted. Oh the joy for all those fans already on an emotional roller coaster set to last several weeks.

There was more pain for Croatia, not overwhelmed or overawed by the occasion or opposition. They thought they had equalised late on only for Nishimura to give a foul for Ivica Olic's challenge on Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar.

Hardly surprising that they were fuming. The phrase home town decisions sprung to mind.

When Oscar scored in injury time, the game was up.

For the good of the tournament it was the result everyone wanted, bar Croatia of course, who have a strong case to argue that it only came about due to bad refereeing.

Still, what a way to begin the 2014 World Cup.

One of the big names shining straight away, a compelling encounter, controversy and drama. It had the lot. More please.

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