It's fi­nally here! Brazil World Cup be­gins

The Covington News - - SPORTS -

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.

AP Photo/Felipe Dana

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.

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