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Brazil Beats Croatia, 3-1, in World Cup Opener


Brazil players celebrate after scoring a third goal during the group A World Cup soccer match against Croatia in the opening game of the tournament at Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, June 12, 2014.

Brazil players celebrate after scoring a third goal during the group A World Cup soccer match against Croatia in the opening game of the tournament at Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, June 12, 2014.

Brazil has made a first step towards winning the World Cup, as is hugely expected, but the host country needed a bit of help from the referees.

After falling behind, 1-0, to heavy underdog Croatia in the 11th minute, Brazil recovered to win, 3-1, in the opening game of the World Cup Thursday at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo.

Brazilian superstar Neymar scored two goals, including one on a penalty kick, and teammate Oscar added an insurance score during injury time.

Neymar's penalty kick gave Brazil a 2-1 lead and came after a controversial call in the 71st minute when teammate Fred fell in the area under light contact. Croatian players charged the referee to plead their case, but to no avail.

Croatia later had a potential tying goal nullified in the 83rd minute after a referee called a foul by Ivica Olic on Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar.

Croatia took an initial 1-0 lead in the world's premier sporting event when Brazilian defender Marcelo inadvertently kicked the ball into his own goal in the 11th minute.

Brazil's Group A match against Croatia was the only game Thursday. On Friday, Mexico and Cameroon clash in Natal in another Group A game, while defending-champion Spain plays the Netherlands in Salvador and Chile faces Argentina in Cuiaba in Group B matchups.

Spain beat the Netherlands, 1-0, in the 2010 World Cup championship in 2010.

Brazil is the consensus-favorite and is seeking a record sixth World Cup title and its first since 2002. The Brazilians are ranked third in the world by World Cup organizer FIFA behind Spain at number one and Germany in the second spot.

Other teams expected to challenge for this year's trophy include Argentina, Brazil's neighbor and fierce rival, along with European giants Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal.

Thursday's game followed an elaborate opening ceremony at the Arena Corinthians featuring American pop star Jennifer Lopez - known as J-Lo - Brazilian pop star Claudia Leitte and rapper Pitbull.

The tournament is played in two stages. The first lasts two weeks, with four teams in each of eight groups playing games against one another. The top two teams in each group then move on to a single-elimination bracket, with a champion being crowned on July 13.

Germany, which is aiming for its fourth World Cup title, is in the so-called "group of death" with fourth-ranked Portugal, the United States and Ghana, all of which made it to the round of 16 at the last World Cup in 2010.

Another group to watch is the only other to feature more than one top-10 team. It pits seventh-ranked Uruguay against ninth-ranked Italy, 10th-ranked England and number 28 Costa Rica.

VOA's Scott Bobb reports hundreds of people gathered in downtown Rio de Janeiro to protest social policies and the billions of dollars Brazil spent on football stadiums. The demonstrators say they feel officials are neglecting the social services of Brazil; They say they plan to protest throughout the World Cup.

In Sao Paulo, dozens of protesters clashed with police near the Arena Corinthians stadium, which hosted the opening match. The run-up to the competition has been plagued by years of construction delays and budget overruns.

The government spent $11.5 billion to prepare for the month-long event, including building or upgrading stadiums in 12 cities hosting games among the 32-team field.
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