Five-time champions Brazil brushed aside the embarrassment of opening the football World Cup with an own goal to defeat a resolute Croatia 3-1 and set the ball rolling in the biggest sporting spectacle on earth here.
Considered the spiritual home of soccer, Brazil shrugged off anti-tournament protests and doubts of under-prepared infrastructure to start the carnival with a sparkling opening ceremony, which was, however, not without minor glitches.
The nearly 40-minute long routine had pop stars Pit Bull and Jennifer Lopez belting out the official song for the tournament — ‘We are one’. The ceremony sought to celebrate the cultural and natural heritage of Brazil before the beautiful game took centrestage.
As expected, Brazil opened the scoring but much to the horror of the packed stadium, it ended up being a goal for Croatia when Marcelo passed the ball, which had deflected off Nikica Jelavic’s feet, into his own net.
But wonder boy Neymar expectedly emerged as the hero as he rose to the occasion by scoring an equaliser before converting a highly controversial penalty to send the 60,000 plus gathering into an ecstatic frenzy at the Corinthians arena.
The 22-year old, playing his first World Cup game, was under tremendous pressure and scrutiny for his prodigious talent and the star Barcelona striker did exactly what was expected of him.
To put the icing on the cake, Oscar, whose selection was debated, toed the ball from a distance into the goal post in dying moments to complete the win.
Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura though was dubbed as villain for his dubious decision to award penalty, leaving Croatian team and their fans heartbroken. Fred had backed into Croatian defender Dejan Lovren and fell over, an act which Nishimura punished.
“If anybody saw that was a penalty, let them raise their hand. I cannot raise my hand. I didn’t see it,” Croatian coach Niko Kovac fumed.
“If you continue in this vein then there will be 100 penalties during this World Cup.”
But in one of the most exciting opening games in a World Cup, witnessed by 12 heads of states, Brazil made a prefect start in their quest to lift the Cup for a record sixth time.
The victory triggered celebration across Sao Paulo when hours before the opening ceremony, police had to fire tear gas and rubber bullets to defuse a fresh protest near a subway station.
The vibrant opening ceremony encapsulated the colour, culture and nature of Brazil, hosting the big football party first time since 1950.
Thousands of football lovers from across the world thronged the Corinthians Arena and watched the spectacle unfold with invigorating enthusiasm. However, a few stands were still empty when the 30-minute ceremony began.
A giant LED ball, placed at the centre of the stadium, displayed the welcome message in different languages, and hundreds of artists started to trickle in.
Dressed as trees, plants and flowers, the artists represented the nature of the country with background music, which had no drum tunes as yet.
Then on show was the diversity of the Brazilian people, their dance and martial arts, developed by the slaves in the 16th century for self defence.
It was followed by what Brazil is synonymous with, game of football. Several people with football as headgear came in and kids dressed as referees came to the pitch and depicted conduct of a match.
Immediately after this, the Brazilian flag was paraded onto the pitch. The giant ball opened and took the form of a flower. Brazilian singer Claudia Leitte surfaced from it along with Lopez and Pit Bull.
The trio sang the official World Cup song — We Are One (Ole Ola) — but it looked Jennifer’s mike did not work.
The song, however, could not be heard clearly and the ceremony, in which about 500 people showed the vibrant colours of Brazil, concluded in a jiffy without the speech of any FIFA official.
Several anti-government protests have marred the build up over the cost of the staging of the event which is expected to be no less than USD 11 billion.
Not only the protests but also the delays in construction of stadias had put the organisers on the edge.