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Scolari praises Neymar after Brazil vin Croatia coach Kovac slams referee

SAO PAULO, June 13, (RTRS): Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari rejected claims they were favoured by the referee and heaped praise on Neymar after the forward scored twice in a 3-1 win over Croatia in the World Cup opening game on Thursday. Scolari said his team showed great character after bouncing back from an early own goal 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 told reporters after the win gave Brazil a great start in their bid for a record-extending sixth World Cup title. 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 with a controversial penalty awarded by Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura.


Croatia’s coach Niko Kovac was furious about the award of the soft 71st-minute spot kick 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 has 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 favor of Brazil.”
“The referee saw a penalty. It’s the referee that has to decide.”


Scolari, Neymar and the rest of the Brazil team are under intense pressure as local fans expect their team to deliver the country’s first World Cup title on home soil.
Neymar delivered in style on Thursday, leading the comeback alongside excellent midfielder Oscar.
“He (Neymar) doesn’t need all of you (the media) to demand that he become the best player in the world. His responsibility is to play for Brazil, and that’s what he did today,” Scolari said.
Neymar said the victory was “more than I ever dreamed or imagined. The merit belongs to the team as a whole, which remained cool and calm to come from behind and win.”
Scolari also heaped praise on the Brazil supporters in the 62,103 crowd in Sao Paulo, a city with notoriously fickle fans who booed the team in their final warmup match for the World Cup.
“Our players were excellent, they showed determination to be able to come from behind. They were fantastic,” Scolari said.


“But who really deserves praise are the fans. It was wonderful, the support we received here in Sao Paulo. If there’s still any notion out there Sao Paulo doesn’t root for the national team effusively enough, that was put to rest today.”
Furious Croatia coach Niko Kovac blamed “out of his depth” referee Yuichi Nishimura and warned the World Cup could turn into a circus after a contentious penalty decision effectively cost his team the opening game of the tournament against Brazil.
Japanese ref Nishimura ruled that Croatia’s Dejan Lovren had fouled Fred when the Brazilian fell to the floor with 20 minutes remaining and the score at 1-1. Neymar converted the penalty for his second goal of the game and they went on to win 3-1 in Thursday’s Group A match.


Dominated
“This was ridiculous today, and if we continue in this way we will have a circus,” Kovac told a news conference dominated by questions about the penalty.
“If that’s a penalty, we don’t need to play football any more. Let’s play basketball instead. The lads played their hearts out but that was outright thuggery by a referee who was just out of his depth for a game of this magnitude.”
Kovac, who said his team deserved at least a draw from a match played at a packed Corinthians arena in Sao Paulo, also felt Oscar’s third goal near the end of the game should not have been allowed due to a foul earlier in the move.
“Was there a foul on my player? Yes. It was a foul. But that’s life. We will march on. We will not be swayed.”


Kovac, stony-faced yet calm, praised his team, which took the lead in the 11th minute after an own goal by Marcelo, and had several scoring chances during the rest of the match.
“My lads have fought for two years to reach the World Cup. They worked hard, prepared, and then they were faced with such a penalty decision here. You can imagine walking into our dressing room - what kind of mood my lads are in.”
Kovac said he did not blame Fred for his theatrical fall. “The referee was well-placed, he was not unsighted, he saw everything and he took that decision,” he said. “I don’t blame Fred at all.”
Croatia’s fans were also furious with the Japanese official.
“I’ll never eat sushi again,” said Goran, a Croatian fan who attended the game as he ate dinner afterward. “I guess the world was against us today.”


Despite the setback, Kovac said he remained confident his team could progress from the group. They play Cameroon in the hot and humid Amazon city of Manaus on June 18 and Mexico in Recife five days later.
“I am optimistic,” he told Croatian television. “Naturally the lads are a bit down after this, but we will be up again as soon as we’ve had something to eat. We just have to make our way into the knockout stages because we are definitely good enough.”
Kovac said he looked forward to welcoming back Mario Mandzukic into the team for the next two games, after he was suspended for the opening encounter.

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