RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — They watched at remote cattle ranches on the edge of the Amazon. Thousands gathered before a giant screen on sun-drenched Copacabana beach In Rio. In hole-in-the-wall bars in hillside slums, haughty high society clubs and family living rooms across the country, all eyes were trained on TV sets as the World Cup began Thursday in Brazil.
Not even protests outside the stadium in Sao Paulo where Brazil defeated Croatia 3-1 could dampen Brazilians' enthusiasm for the national team, which is chasing a sixth championship.
It started on a nervous note for the home crowd, though.
At Rio de Janeiro's Jockey Club, where the moneyed elite watched the game on giant screens while sipping on wine underneath the gaze of the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue, the crowd let out a collective screech when Brazil's Marcelo scored an own goal, giving Croatia an early 1-0 lead.
But anguish turned to delight minutes later when superstar striker Neymar slipped a ball past a diving Croatian goalkeeper to even the score.
"This is what always happens with Brazil," said Eduardo Almeida, a consultant who paid $55 entrance fee at the club. "We're nervous and screw things up at first, but then we get loose and confident and we kick butt."
At the other end of Brazil's highly stratified income ladder, in the Santa Marta slum, a group of mostly black residents sent beers flying and jumped in place ecstatically after the tying goal.
The loudest celebration, aside from the 61,000 fans at Itaquerao stadium in Sao Paulo, could be heard on Copacabana beach. There, fans dressed mostly in the yellow and green of Brazil's flag began lining up around breakfast time, eight hours before kickoff, for the chance to watch the game on an imposing 150-square-meter (1,615-square-foot) television screen.
The FIFA Fan Fest at Copacabana got started early, with Brazilians having a good laugh watching their newfound foreign friends try out samba steps and shake their rear ends to the gyrating, lustful rhythms of Rio's trademark funk music. As night fell after the game, and a bright full moon rose from the sea, hundreds more who couldn't find a spot on the sand crowded onto Copacabana's black and white stone mosaic sidewalk.
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