BRAZIL secured the victory that their millions of fans craved in last night’s opening World Cup match in Sao Paulo.
But the 3-1 Group A win over a determined Croatia side was tinged with controversy as an extremely soft 71st-minute penalty – less-than-expertly converted by Neymar – proved crucial.
It was harsh on the European side, whose goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa got a hand to Neymar’s strike but could not keep it out. The game – and tournament had got off to a terrible start for the hosts when Real Madrid’s Marcelo turned a shot into his own net on 11 minutes. Barcelona forward Neymar, though, equalised on 29 minutes and Oscar sealed the win in the last minute.
The tournament’s opening ceremony, featuring Jennifer Lopez, rapper Pitbull and Brazilian singer Claudia Leitte, and the match took place against a backdrop of unrest in Sao Paulo. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators who had attempted to block a road leading to the stadium. Five people were reportedly injured.
Demonstrations have been going on for months, with Brazilians venting their anger against a tournament where the level of public spending stands at £6.5 billion – and rising.
There was further woe for Fifa yesterday when Uefa president Michel Platini turned on Sepp Blatter, president of the world governing body. Platini has been a strong supporter of Blatter in the past but believes it was wrong of the 78-year-old to go back on his word, given in 2011, not to stand again in 2015.
Platini said: “I have known him for a long time and I like him but I am not in favour of him having a new term. I supported him in 1998 but I do not support him in 2014. I think that Fifa needs a breath of fresh air. In 2011 he asked for our support [Uefa’s] and told us that that would be his last term. . .”
Blatter all but confirmed at Fifa’s annual Congress on Wednesday that he would run for a fifth term next year despite criticism that the game and organisation have been tarnished by accusations of corruption during his long reign.
The Scottish Football Association also expressed its disappointment at Blatter’s volte face.
Stewart Regan, the SFA chief executive, said: “Uefa members gave their support to Mr Blatter in 2011 on the proviso that this would be his last term in office. The goalposts have now been moved on this issue.
“In 2011, Uefa members made it clear that we believed that a change of leadership was needed at the end of Mr Blatter’s current term. The Scottish FA continues to hold that belief.”
Fifa, meanwhile, have defended the pitch where England will kick of their campaign against Italy tomorrow amid reports that the groundstaff had resorted to painting the grass at Arena de Amazonia in Manaus to make it look greener, and less bare.
A Fifa statement said: “The pitch in Manaus has been undergoing treatment in preparation for the Fifa World Cup. Over the last three months, mitigation procedures have been put in place and there continues to be, significant improvement.
“Pitch experts from Fifa and the LOC [Local Organising Committee] are satisfied that the pitch will be ready for training and the matches.”