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Brazil opens World Cup with 3-1 victory

SAO PAULO - Brazil launched the World Cup with an emotion-fuelled 3-1 victory over Croatia on Thursday as an opening day which began with violent clashes gave way to an outpouring of joyful celebrations.

Barcelona superstar Neymar scored in each half as Brazil recovered from conceding an early Marcelo own goal to set up a win before hordes of golden-shirted fans at the 61,600 Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo.

Chelsea midfielder Oscar put the seal on the win with a late strike from distance to trigger delirium.

The host nation's Group A victory was greeted by an explosion of fireworks across Sao Paulo, a sharp contrast to several hours earlier when riot police fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse angry protests.

But a largely free-flowing tournament-opener was shrouded in controversy, with Brazil's second coming courtesy of a dubious penalty when Croatia defender Dejan Lovren was harshly adjudged to have shoved Fred over.

The hosts, chasing a record sixth World Cup, had also enjoyed a degree of good fortune in the first half when Neymar received only a yellow card for elbowing Croatia's playmaker Luka Modric.

Moments later Neymar scored Brazil's equaliser to settle home nerves after Marcelo's 11th-minute own goal.

Lovren was furious with the performance of Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura, branding his display a "scandal."

"Two billion people I think saw that it was not a penalty. I didn't touch him," Lovren said.

"It wasn't a mistake, it was a scandal."

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Fans cheer before 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.

(AP)

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