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World Cup 2014: Win for Brazil as World Cup gets underway amid protests

07:16 13 June 2014

Brazil's Neymar celebrates with teammates after scoring during the group A World Cup football match between Brazil and Croatia, the opening game of the tournament, in the Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil last night. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Brazil's Neymar celebrates with teammates after scoring during the group A World Cup football match between Brazil and Croatia, the opening game of the tournament, in the Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil last night. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Brazil kicked off one of the most troubled World Cups ever amid a nationwide wave of excitement mingled with wafts of tear gas.

Actors perform during the opening ceremony ahead of the group A World Cup soccer match between Brazil and Croatia, the opening game of the tournament, in the Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)Actors perform during the opening ceremony ahead of the group A World Cup soccer match between Brazil and Croatia, the opening game of the tournament, in the Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)

It started with the home team in an opening match in a stadium that was barely ready on time.

After an opening ceremony featuring Jennifer Lopez in a low-cut sparkling green outfit and dancers dressed as trees, Brazil’s beloved national team, the star-studded Selecao, embarked on the extremely serious business of conquering a sixth world title that could assuage much - but not all - the public anger about World Cup spending of 11.5 billion dollars (£67.9bn) in a nation with tens of millions of poor.

Brazil’s first opponent was Croatia. The all-new Itaquerao stadium, which suffered chronic delays and worker deaths in its construction, was a sea of buttercup yellow, the colour of the national team.

Brazilian fans were crossing fingers and toes that this crop of stars will deliver not just victory but football as art, the “Jogo bonito” - the beautiful game - that was the hallmark of great Brazilian teams of the past.

A woman stands in front of a line of riot police during a violent demonstration during the 2014 soccer World Cup in the center of Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Protesters clashed with police at a rally against the World Cup, demanding better public services and protesting over the money spent on the soccer tournament. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)A woman stands in front of a line of riot police during a violent demonstration during the 2014 soccer World Cup in the center of Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Protesters clashed with police at a rally against the World Cup, demanding better public services and protesting over the money spent on the soccer tournament. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

The first half was everything fans love about football - gut-wrenching, full of passion, drama and twists. Brazil made a nightmare start. Brazilian defender Marcelo looked stunned and the crowd of 61,000 wailed after he scored an own-goal that gave Croatia an unlikely 1-0 lead after just 11 minutes. And despite all the promises from government officials that Brazil would be ready, there were teething problems at the stadium: the lighting failed in one corner of the stadium, flickering off, on, off and then on again in the deepening gloom.

But the gloom lifted when Neymar lived up to his hype as the team’s biggest star and tied the game for Brazil in the 29th minute, unleashing an ear-splitting roar from the crowd and across the nation. Brazilian fans call themselves “torcidas” - derived from the Portuguese word “to twist” and describing how football puts them through the wringer. This opening match certainly did that.

Even the football-loving Pope Francis got a touch of World Cup fever. He sent a video message on Brazilian television before the match, saying that the world’s most popular sport can promote peace and solidarity by teaching the importance of working hard to reach goals, fair play and teamwork, and respect and honour for opponents.

But the party wasn’t all fun-loving samba.

In Sao Paulo, police fired canisters of tear gas and stun grenades to push back more than 300 demonstrators who gathered along a main road leading to the stadium.

“I’m totally against the Cup,” said protester and university student Tameres Mota. “We’re in a country where the money doesn’t go to the community, and meanwhile we see all these millions spent on stadiums.”

Police also used tear gas against about 300 protesters who gathered in central Rio de Janeiro.

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