Football

Scolari blasts Croatia's penalty claim

Referee storm as Brazilian crowd erupt 
in homage 
to Neymar

Japanese football fans hung their heads in shame after referee Yuichi Nishimura's controversial performance in the World Cup opener helped Brazil to a 3-1 win over Croatia, further clouding Fifa's showpiece tournament.

Social media in Japan lit up after the official's decision to give a soft penalty to Brazil which changed the balance of the closely fought match. Several posts showed mocked-up photos of Nishimura wearing a Brazil jersey.

Echoing the sentiments of Croatia's furious coach Niko Kovac, who claimed Nishimura had been out of his depth, @sanadamasayuki2 commented: "It's a tough job for us dithering Japanese."

But Luiz Felipe Scolari didn't care.

Instead, he heaped praise on Neymar after the forward scored twice yesterday morning (Singapore time) as the hosts fought back from going a goal down early.

Scolari said his team showed great character after bouncing back 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 said, after the win gave Brazil a great start in their bid for a record-extending sixth World Cup title.

CONTROVERSIAL

Brazil fell behind after 11 minutes through Marcelo's own goal but Neymar led the comeback, scoring with a left-footed shot from outside the area and then through the controversial penalty.

Croatia's coach Kovac was furious and said the World Cup could become a "circus" if Brazil continued to get favourable calls.

Scolari, who said he agreed with the call, responded by reminding Kovac that Brazil have 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 has five World Cup titles," he said.

"Those weren't five circuses in favour of Brazil."

Helped by a large slice of luck, Neymar's dragged shot in the first half trundled in off the Croatian post, before he struck an awful penalty that somehow Stipe Pletikosa failed to keep out.

But that did not stop the 60,000-plus crowd which exploded in delight as fireworks detonated outside.

"This is a dream come true, much more than I imagined," Neymar said, afterwards. "But more important than anything is that our team won."

Given the situation in Brazil, with ambivalence towards the World Cup and police tear-gassing protesters in Sao Paulo just hours earlier, the value of those goals could prove priceless, in the end. - Wire Services.

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