Opening ceremony kicks off Brazil World Cup
After years of construction delays and budget overruns, the World Cup opening ceremony marked the start of a tournament still questioned by many in Brazil for its spiralling costs and problems in finishing stadiums and infrastructure.
Following a lavish dance display, the tournament's official song was performed by Jennifer López, Pitbull and Claudia Leitte in the middle of the Arena de Sao Paulo, which will later play host to Brazil's first clash.
Brazil's national team hosts Croatia in the opening match at a newly built stadium in Sao Paulo whose cost and late delivery came to embody the troubled World Cup preparations.
The nation is seen by many fans around the world as the spiritual home of soccer and hundreds of thousands will descend on the country for the month-long tournament.
Still, many are angry over the $11.3 billion spent on hosting the World Cup when basic social services are poorly financed.
Massive street demonstrations rocked the country last year and although they have faded in numbers recently, officials expect a hard core of a few hundred people to try to block traffic to the stadium today.
Brazilians say the country will rally as soon as the action starts, especially if their team justifies its billing as favorite to win the tournament for a record sixth time.
President Dilma Rousseff dismisses complaints about the heavy spending and delays in preparing stadiums and airports, and is betting Brazil will put on a show on and off the field.
"What I'm seeing more and more is the welcome given to the teams and the happiness of the Brazilian people with our team," she said in a speech yesterday.
Yet the list of possible problems is long. In fact, hosting a successful World Cup may ultimately prove harder for Brazil than winning it.
The main risk, for both fans and the government, appears to be violent street demonstrations.
Protests and labor strikes are planned in the 12 host cities, including a 24-hour slowdown by some airport workers in Rio de Janeiro although the threat of a long subway strike in Sao Paulo has eased.
Some businesses in Rio, the venue for seven Cup games including the final, had boarded up windows and doors by late on Wednesday in case protests erupted.
Officials privately expressed fears that protests and traffic problems could mean some fans might still be stuck outside the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo when the opening match starts at 5 pm.
The government has decreed a partial holiday for Thursday to help ease congestion. Still, a long list of VIPs including 10 heads of state and senior officials from world soccer body FIFA mean traffic will still be complicated.