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Brazil’s controversial win caps dramatic World Cup opening day

WATCH: After strikes and protests in the lead-up, Brazilian officials may have a sense of relief that the first kickoff in the World Cup has finally happened. Mike Drolet has the story.

Brazil’s Neymar gave his country the start it so desperately wanted — needed maybe — in the World Cup’s opening match, scoring twice to lead the host nation to a 3-1 come-from-behind victory over Croatia 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.

SEE MORE: Complete World Cup coverage

The 22-year-old forward tied the game in the 29th minute by clearing a defender near midfield before making a run toward the edge of the area and firing a low shot that hit the post then ricocheting into the net.

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Brazil was then awarded a disputed penalty in the 71st minute after striker Fred went down inside the area under light contact, and Neymar scored the winner from the spot.

IN PHOTOS: Powerful images of protests against World Cup in Brazil

Brazilian teammate Oscar scored in the third in injury time.

Brazil’s victory capped a dramatic day in Sao Paulo and across the rest of the South American country, a day that began with a partial walk off the job among union staff at Rio de Janeiro’s airports.

READ MORE: Civil strife all part of the game in Brazil

Then came the spectacular opening ceremony in Sao Paulo’s gleaming new — yet still somewhat unfinished — arena followed by the first game of the month-long contest.

Controversial call

Japanese official Yuishi Nichimura ensured that refereeing standards at the World Cup will be a hotly debated topic from the opening match.

Nichimura awarded Brazil a questionable penalty that Neymar converted in the 71st minute, giving the host nation 2-1 up in what turned into a 3-1 victory over Croatia.

WATCH: FIFA acknowledges officiating controversy, but denies any favoritism

SEE MORE: Group standings

For some referees, Neymar might not have been on the field to take the spot-kick, nor even level the match in the 29th minute.

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Nichimura showed the Brazil star just a yellow card in the 26th minute for pushing a forearm into the throat of Croatia playmaker Luka Modric.

Four years ago, the 42-year-old professional referee sent off Brazil defender Felipe Melo in its quarter-final exit against the Netherlands.

PHOTOS: Brazil’s World Cup opening ceremony shines 

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Brazilian fans cheer prior to the Group A soccer match between Brazil and Croatia at the Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo. FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images
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Participants take part in the opening ceremony of the 2014 FIFA World Cup at the Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo. FRANCOIS-XAVIER MARIT/AFP/Getty Images
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Brazil fans enjoy the atmosphere before the opening ceremony prior to the Group A match between Brazil and Croatia at Arena de Sao Paulo. Beer sales have been permitted in stadiums for the first time in more than a decade. Warren Little/Getty Images
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The Happiness Flag is seen as artists perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Elsa/Getty Images
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Performers take part in the opening ceremony of the 2014 FIFA football World Cup at the Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo. VANDERLEI ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images
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A young Brazilian fan attends the Group A soccer match between Brazil and Croatia at the Corinthians Arena. DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images
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Singers Claudia Leitte, Pitbull and Jennifer Lopez perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Buda Mendes/Getty Images Sport
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Performers take part in the opening ceremony of the 2014 FIFA football World Cup at the Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo. DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images
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Performers take part in the opening ceremony of the 2014 FIFA World Cup at the Corinthians Arena. PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images
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Performers take part in the opening ceremony of the 2014 FIFA World Cup at the Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo. FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images
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Singers Claudia Leitte, Pitbull and Jennifer Lopez perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Buda Mendes/Getty Images Sport
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Performers take part in the opening ceremony of the 2014 FIFA World Cup at the Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo. FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images
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Brazilian fans attend the opening ceremony before the Group A soccer match between Brazil and Croatia at the Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo . FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images
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Performers take part in the opening ceremony of the 2014 FIFA World Cup at the Corinthians Arena. ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images
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A person in a Batman costume holds a sign during an anti-World Cup demonstration in Rio. Demonstrators were protesting outside stadiums in Rio and Sao Paulo ahead of and during the opening ceremonies. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
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Protestors rally during an anti- World Cup demonstration Rio de Janeiro. Demonstrators were protesting outside stadiums in Rio and Sao Paulo ahead of and during the opening ceremonies.
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A line of police stand guard during an anti-World Cup demonstration in Rio. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
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Croatia fans pose before the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group A match. Buda Mendes/Getty Images
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Brazilian fans cheer before a Group A soccer match between Brazil and Croatia at the Corinthians Arena. VANDERLEI ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images

— With files from Associated Press in Brazil

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