Football: Neymar tops tweet charts as Twitter World Cup kicks off

PARIS - Brazil hero Neymar topped the Twitter charts as football fans in more than 150 countries sent out 12.2 million tweets during the opening match of a World Cup set to represent a landmark in the development of social media.

The Barcelona striker's two goals in Brazil's controversial 3-1 win over Croatia ensured he was the most mentioned player on the micro-blogging site, according to Twitter's own monitoring of Thursday night's big kick-off in Sao Paulo.

This World Cup is widely expected to be the most tweeted event ever and the stats from the first of the 64 matches suggested the tournament will have no trouble exceeding the 150 million tweets sent about the 2012 London Olympics.

Neymer's match-winning performance was a personal triumph, in both footballing and online profile terms.

The spiky-haired 22-year-old added 165,000 followers to his @NeymarJr account over the course of the tournament's opening day, taking his total following to a heavyweight 11 million.

But he is still panting in the digital slipstream of Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Real Madrid star's reputation as the world player of the year combined with his sex symbol status with both gay and straight audiences have made him the undisputed king of the football twittersphere.

At last count Ronaldo was headed for 27 million followers, more than two and a half times the population of his native Portugal.

The Twitter data on the Brazil 2014 opener underlined how social media is rapidly transforming the way international sport is consumed with numerous fans clearly spending as much time commentating on smartphones and tablets as actually watching the match.

The millions squeezing their views into the Twitter limit of 140 characters would have been matched, possibly exceeded, by others voicing their opinions on Facebook, China's Weibo and other fast-growing social media around the world.

"Gooooooaaaal #Brazil!!"

The number of tweets during the 90 minutes was roughly 50 per cent higher than the 8.4 million registered during last month's all-Spanish Champions League final between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.

And the potential for further growth of the global online conversation accompanying major matches is massive.

A number of tweets registered on Thursday evening compares with a global television audience that FIFA was hoping would approach one billion people. World football's governing body estimates that 3.2 billion people, roughly half the world's population, watched at least one match during the last World Cup in South Africa.

Twitter says it has 255 million active users around the world: Sina Weibo reports more than twice that number.

Chelsea's Belgian star Eden Hazard was credited with authoring the most retweeted post of the night, an affectionate message of congratulations to his club team-mate Oscar, who scored a virtuoso goal to seal Brazil's win.

"Congratulation to my bro @oscar11 for your goal," had been retweeted 14,000 times by Friday morning.

Many of Thursday night's missives were less than complimentary about the performance of Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura, who gave Brazil a debatable penalty with the match evenly poised at 1-1.

But the ones which were shared most widely offered slim pickings for aficionados of a well-crafted tweet making a point in pithy or witty fashion.

After Hazard's salute to his team-mate, the next most popular ones came from Keaton and Wesley Stromberg, members of American boyband Emblem3.

Their contributions to posterity included "Game day!" (Keaton accompanied by photo of him in a Brazil shirt) and "Gooooooaaaal #Brazil!!" (Wesley).