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Neymar leads Brazil to 3-1 win over Croatia

SAO PAULO -- Neymar gave Brazil a winning start to its home World Cup, scoring twice to lead the host nation to an unconvincing 3-1 victory over Croatia in the opening game on Thursday.

Brazil had a disastrous start when defender Marcelo found his own net while trying to clear a low cross by Ivica Olic in the 11th minute, but Neymar then showed why the nation's high hopes are all pinned on him.

The 22-year-old forward equalized in the 29th minute, clearing a defender in midfield before making a run toward the edge of the area and firing a perfectly placed low shot that went in off the post.

The game turned on a controversial penalty awarded by Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura in the 71st minute when striker Fred went down inside the area under minimal contact from defender Dejan Lovren.

Neymar scored from the spot and the Croatians were furious.

“If that was a penalty, we should be playing basketball,” said Croatia coach Niko Kovac. “Those kinds of fouls are penalized there.”

“That is shameful, this is not a World Cup referee. He had one kind of criteria for them and another for us. The rules were not the same,” said Kovac.

As Croatia searched desperately for an equalizer, Oscar added to the lead in the first minute of injury time with a toe poke from just outside the penalty area.

Croatia had a few good chances toward the end and had a goal disallowed in the 83rd after the referee ruled Olic had fouled Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar.

The host nation hasn't lost in the opening match in the last nine World Cups. South Africa was held by Mexico to a 1-1 draw four years ago.

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Croatia's defender and captain Darijo Srna, center, tackles Brazil's forward Neymar, left, as teammate Croatia's midfielder Luka Modric looks on during a Group A soccer match between Brazil and Croatia at the Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo on Thursday, June 12 during the 2014 FIFA World Cup. (AFP)

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