It's finally here! Brazil World Cup begins
SAO PAULO (AP) — “Tudo bem” — all good — as the Brazilians like to say. Well, almost. With a nationwide wave of excitement but also wafts of tear gas, the country that sees itself as the artful soul of football but is deeply conflicted about spending billions of dollars on hosting its showcase tournament kicked off one of the most troubled World Cups ever. It started Thursday with the home team in an opening match in a stadium that was barely ready on time.
After a funky opening ceremony featuring J-Lo in low-cut sparkling green and dancers dressed as trees, Brazil’s beloved national team, the star-studded Seleção, 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 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 color 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.
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 gloam.
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.
Brazil’s Neymar celebrates after scoring his sides first goal during 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, Thursday, June 12, 2014.