Brazil Gets World Cup Started With 3-1 Win Over Croatia

The 2014 World Cup is officially underway. Before the opening game, there were several protests around the country. But the revelry and excitement after the match captured the most attention.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's day two of the World Cup in Brazil. And as far as the competition on the field goes, the bar has been set pretty high. There were street protests, ahead of the opening game. But on the field, an all-important victory for the host country, a 3 to 1 win over Croatia. That win led to fireworks, at the game site in Sao Paulo and soccer joy, throughout the country. From Sao Paulo, NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRAZILIAN NATIONAL ANTHEM)

CHORUS: (Singing in Portuguese).

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Not to read too much into it but the feeling 60,000 plus fans put into the pregame Brazilian National Anthem at Itequera Stadium was, perhaps, a few decibels greater than normal.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRAZILIAN NATIONAL ANTHEM)

CHORUS: (Singing in Portuguese).

GOLDMAN: The moment followed years of buildup and questioning about whether the seemingly perfect pairing of World Cup and soccer-crazy Brazil was actually the right thing to do. In fact, a few hours before that anthem police used tear gas and stun grenades on protesters, a few miles away from the stadium. If the gusto in the singing didn't completely wash away the dubious feelings, a 22-year-old Brazilian whiz kid with a soccer ball did.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

GOLDMAN: With some dazzling footwork and a left-footed shot, just out of reach of the Croatian goalkeeper, Brazil forward Neymar tied the score at one-all, midway through the first half. The goal wiped away the ick, after defender Marcelo opened the Brazilian scoring for Croatia. His own goal, in the 11th minute, gave Croatia a stunning, early lead. But then Neymar, projected as a possible player of the tournament, did his thing, twice. After a controversial foul call, he converted a penalty kick, in the second half, that gave Brazil the lead for good. Afterwards, Croatia's coach railed against the call, saying thousands watching the game didn't see the foul. Brazil's coach, Luis Filipe Scolari, responded with this.

LUIS FILIPE SCOLARI: (Portuguese spoken).

GOLDMAN: Thousands didn't see a penalty, he said. The referee saw it and gave it. As I said yesterday, the refereeing belongs to the referee. And he is to decide - and we also think it was a penalty. Neymar didn't talk controversy. He talked about goals, saying his performance was more than he dreamed of. Although with Brazil, he said, it was team first, as always.

NEYMAR: (Through translator) Today, we demonstrated that it's not one, two or three players that will decide the game. If the whole team is not plugged together, we're not going to win.

GOLDMAN: But plugged together, they were. And throughout Brazil, fans at watch parties shared the optimism that comes with an all-important first win, in the tournament.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAMBA MUSIC)

GOLDMAN: At a samba club in Sao Paulo yesterday, Vanessa Deolveria was one of about 100 people watching the game. She says, particularly with the protests leading up to the tournament, people in her country needed the win.

VANESSA DEOLVERIA: (Portuguese spoken).

DEOLVERIA: (Through translator) It was important, before the World Cup, to show that we had problems. Now it's important to show that our happiness can overcome those problems. So it's time to embrace all of visitors, to show we're good at football, good at samba. And that we are a hard-working, but very happy people.

GOLDMAN: Brazil's next chance to show its football prowess and happiness comes on Tuesday, against Mexico. Tom Goldman NPR News, Sao Paulo.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAMBA MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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