World Cup: Setting off fireworks

June 12, 2014 

Fireworks went off across Sao Paulo when Neymar scored the tying goal for Brazil in the 29th minute.

He made a heart with his hands as he celebrated the perfectly placed low left-footed shot that bounced off the right post and in, after Marcelo’s own goal gave Croatia a shocking 1-0 lead in the World Cup opener.

Tears and song

Tens of thousands of yellow-clad fans kept singing the national anthem after the music stopped, and tears streamed down goalkeeper Julio Cesar’s face.

Brazil’s World Cup has officially started.

Doves were released as a sign of peace, formally beginning the tournament before the hosts faced Croatia in the opener at Itaquerao Stadium.

Boos amid cheers

In a otherwise joyous scene at Itaquerao Stadium, Brazilians briefly made their displeasure known.

Late in the opening ceremony before the first match of the World Cup on Thursday, fans loudly chanted and booed against Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and soccer’s governing body, FIFA. Many in the nation have complained that spending on the World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics has diverted cash from the poor and infrastructure improvements.

The atmosphere was otherwise festive before Brazil faced Croatia. Jennifer Lopez, rapper Pitbull and pop star Claudia Leitte bounced around a giant stage resembling a peeled melon singing the World Cup theme “We Are One” as Brazilian band Olodum banged drums below on this nation’s Valentine’s Day.

Conflicted loyalties

Nely Lopes Cachocira is Brazilian. Her husband, Vlatko Zaimovic, is Croatian.

The couple from Montes Claros had a few mixed emotions about Thursday’s World Cup opener at Itaquerao Stadium.

Lopes Cachocira sported a homemade beaded yellow tank top with half of each country’s flag on front.

So, the debate: Who would win?

“Croatia,” Zaimovic said.

“No, Brazil!” she shot back.

Meanwhile, one soccer fan who traveled from afar jumped right on the Brazil bandwagon.

David Hunt, 55, of Cardiff, South Wales, made his first trip out of Europe to attend the World Cup. He decked himself out in Brazil gear from head to toe.

Literally. His socks featured the Brazilian flag.

“Because I like Brazil,” he said Thursday morning. “Everybody loves my socks.”

And, of course, he was predicting a sixth championship for the proud home country.

Janie McCauley – www.twitter.com/JanieMcCAP

Priceless tickets

For a Brazilian, a ticket to the World Cup on home turf is priceless – even if you are sitting in the last row of the stadium.

“It’s incredible,” said Felipe Turci, an 11-year-old draped in yellow as he peered down upon the rest of Itaquerao Stadium. “It’s beautiful.”

The temporary stands holding nearly 20,000 seats were only recently approved because of safety concerns. They were delayed mostly because of an accident earlier this year. They were installed so the stadium could accommodate the more than 60,000 people for the opener.

Gabriel Ponce, a 21-year-old fan from Sao Paulo, said he was initially hesitant to buy a seat in the questionable grandstands. But now that he was there, his mind was put to rest.

“It doesn’t matter where I sit as long as I am here,” he said. “It is such a unique experience.”

Fernanda Sanchez, also in the last row of the stadium, said she would have preferred to be closer to the action –and potentially safer – but would take what she could get. At 160 Brazilian real (about $75), she said it was the cheapest ticket available.

“I’m not worried. I’m just happy to be here in this day. One day I can tell my future children that I was here,” she said, before adding with a smile: “If the stands fall, we will all fall together.”

Aron Heller – http//twitter.com/aronhellerap

Traffic un-jammed

The World Cup managed to end Sao Paulo’s seemingly endless traffic jam – at least for a few hours. All it took was for Brazil to play in the tournament opener.

Few cars were on the streets two hours before the host Selecao faced Croatia on Thursday at the Itaquerao, the newly opened stadium on the eastern edge of the city built for the Corinthians club team. There was only a fraction of the usual pedestrian traffic.

Officials declared Thursday a holiday in Sao Paulo. Some shops were shut, with gates pulled partially or completely down.

Still, there were some people walking around the Paulista district downtown and a few sitting in cafes, which had televisions on tuned to pregame shows. A majority of those out wore yellow Brazilian home jerseys or blue road shirts.

Ronald Blum – www.twitter.com/ronaldblum

Eerily calm

Most Brazilians apparently avoided travel on game day so as not to risk missing the opening match.

Rio’s normally bustling Santos Dumont domestic airport was eerily calm Thursday, and there was hardly a customer to be seen in the FIFA store. Even the World Cup-themed Fun Zone, which has table soccer pitches, large screen TVs and benches for fans to rest, was nearly empty. Only employees were taking advantage of the table soccer facilities.

Jenny Barchfield – twitter.com/JennyBarchfield

Follow AP journalists covering the World Cup on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AP–Sports/world-cup-2014

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