It's finally here! Brazil World Cup begins

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 12, 2014 at 7:06 pm •  Published: June 12, 2014
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SAO PAULO (AP) — "Tudo bem" — all good — as the Brazilians say.

Well, almost.

With a nationwide spasm of excitement but also tear gas, the country that sees itself as the artful soul of football but is conflicted about spending billions of dollars on hosting its showcase tournament kicked off one of the most troubled World Cups ever.

It roared to life Thursday with a 3-1 win for the home team in a stadium barely readied on time for the first of 64 matches in 12 cities.

The end of Brazil's 64-year wait for the World Cup to return to the country of Pele wasn't all parties and samba. There were protests in five host cities and chants against President Dilma Rousseff. But it wasn't close to the chaos that wracked last year's tuneup tournament, the Confederations Cup, when hundreds of thousands poured into the streets.

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 Selecao, made an earnest if not brilliant start to the serious business of re-conquering planet futebol. Already the only nation with five world titles, a sixth victory in the July 13 final could assuage much — but not all — public anger about spending $11.5 billion on the tournament.

Brazil's first opponent was a resilient but ultimately outclassed Croatian side. The 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 expect this crop of stars to deliver not just victory but football as art, the "Jogo bonito" — the beautiful game — that was the hallmark of great Brazilian teams.

The inaugural game had everything aficionados love — passion, drama, spectacle, goals and a refereeing controversy that immediately set fingers wagging on Twitter, showing how players, officials and organizers must live under the microscope of unprecedented social media scrutiny.

Brazilian fans call themselves "torcidas" — derived from the Portuguese word "to twist" and evoking how football puts them through the wringer. Brazil made a nightmare start. Marcelo looked stunned, the crowd of 62,103 wailed and grown men watching in bars let out howls of despairing laughter when the Brazilian defender scored an own-goal that gave Croatia an unlikely 1-0 lead after just 11 minutes.

"I'm very emotional, happy, and happy that it's over," said spectator Ricieri Garbelini, visibly drained. "I was nervous for five minutes at the beginning, and at the end."

The mood lifted when Neymar lived up to his hype and tied the game for Brazil in the 29th minute, unleashing an ear-splitting roar from the crowd and across the nation. In the rundown city of Indaiatuba, a two-hour drive from Sao Paulo, tattooed men in undershirts celebrated by pounding on restaurant tables. Fans watched the game wearing shirts bearing the name of the 22-year-old.

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