The Barcelona forward converted a hotly disputed spot-kick 19 minutes from time after Fred tumbled under minimal contact from Dejan Lovren.
It capped a superb night for the 22-year-old on a personal level as he marked his 50th cap for his country by drilling in a low 25-yard effort just shy of the half hour after Niko Kovac's side had silenced a buoyant home crowd.
The team nicknamed Vatreni started well and stunned the stadium on 11 minutes when Real Madrid defender, Marcelo put through his own net after Nikica Jelavic had failed to connect with Ivica Olic's left-wing cross.
PRE-MATCH: Neymar starts as Brazil stick to a winning formula. As expected, the host nation's superstar, Neymar is fit to start as Scolari sticks with the XI that beat Spain in the Confederations Cup final last year. Croatia are without their suspended top striker, Mandzukic, so Hull striker Jelavic comes in.
11' - GOAL! Brazil 0-1 Croatia. It's an own goal! Marcelo puts through his own net! Olic teases a low ball into the area from the left, Jelavic misses his kick and Marcelo can only watch in horror as it hits him and bobbles in. Bad start for the hosts.
29' - GOAL! Brazil 1-1 Croatia. The hosts break forward from a threatening Croatia attack with devastating effect. Neymar picks it up and surges at goal before scuffing a 25-yard left-foot shot into the corner. The relief is tangible inside the stadium.
71' - GOAL! Brazil 2-1 Croatia. Controversial. Lovren adjudged to have felled Fred, but it looked soft. Neymar steps up and sees his effort high to the right of Pletikosa go in via two big hands from the keeper, who will feel he should have kept it out. But Brazil don't care. It's lift off for their World Cup bid.
90' - CROATIA CHANCE! Perisic lets fly from distance and Cesar does well to get down and beat it to safety.
90+1' - GOAL! Brazil 3-1 Croatia. From Cesar's save, Brazil break and Oscar seals it with a toe-poke form the edge of the box that creeps in at the near post.
That Penalty. Lovren's slight tug on Fred had the referee rushing to point to the spot, but replays show there was very little in it. Whether it was a dive or not, most observers would admit it wasn't a penalty. It proved to be the turning point in the game and Croatia will rightly feel hard done by. With luck like that, who'd bet against Neymar firing Brazil to World title number six?
Croatia’s opening goal was the first time Brazil have been credited with an own goal in World Cup history.
Neymar has scored six goals in his last four appearances for Brazil.
Neymar has scored 33 goals in only 50 appearances for Brazil.
He is the first player to score 2+ goals in his first World Cup appearance since David Villa for Spain vs Ukraine in 2006.
Oscar has scored four times in his last eight appearances for Brazil.
The last three penalties in normal time at World Cups had been missed before Neymar’s (Gyan, Cardozo & Alonso).
No Brazilian has missed a penalty in a World Cup game (excl. shootouts) since Zico in 1986 (vs France).
Brazil’s first shot of the second half came in the 67th minute.
No host nation has ever lost their opening game at the World Cup.
Brazil have now won nine of their last 10 group games at World Cups (1D)
Brazil conceded only five fouls, their joint-lowest total in any World Cup match from 1966 to present.
There were only two own goals during the entire 2010 World Cup tournament.
(Stats courtesy of Opta)
MAN OF THE MATCH
Neymar (Brazil): The Barcelona forward is Brazil's great hope and once again he stepped up to the plate and delivered. Two crucial goals and some lovely touches mean he is up and running as one of the stars of this year's tournament.
PLAYER RATINGS -
CROATIA: Pletikosa 6, Srna 6, Corluka 6, Lovren 7, Vrsaijko 5, Kovacic 6, Olic 6, Modric 6, Rakitic 6, Perisic 7, Jelavic 6. Subs: Brozovic 6, Rebic n/a.
THE MATCH IN A TWEET
- Sports & Recreation
- Nikica Jelavic
- Dejan Lovren