The yellow stretched from one end of Arena de Sao Paulo to the other, and when the Brazilian national anthem played, the home crowd sang in unison and raised the energy levels at Thursday’s home opener to a new level.
We quickly found out that there was still another level the Brazilian fans could reach after Brazil overcame a 1-0 deficit on the way to a 3-1 victory against Croatia.
The scenes at the World Cup opener were filled with color and pageantry through the opening ceremonies, and with drama and skill through 90 hard-fought minutes between a Brazil side that looked like a team carrying a world of pressure, and a Croatia side that is much better than it is being given credit for.
Sao Paulo was a bit of a ghost town on Thursday, with a national holiday clearing the streets of the usually-stifling traffic. There were still hordes of soccer fans in the streets, but they found a much easier trip to Thursday’s opener than had been expected. Protests were limited to one involving about 100 angry citizens.
The Brazilians in the stadium on Thursday night delivered their own form of protest, a particularly obscene chant at the country’s president, who could be seen celebrating Brazil’s goals, but wasn’t shown by television cameras during those awkward moments when the chants cursing her were as loud as any others heard on that special evening.
It wasn’t just Brazilians who could be found making the trek to the stadium. Croatians were out in force in their familiar red and white checkerboard jerseys. Fans from Colombia to Mexico to Guatemala could be found representing their countries as the competed for attention with the overwhelming sea of Brazil jerseys.
The Arena de Sao Paulo, known traditionally as Arena Corinthians, held up well after months of concerns about construction renovations being completed in time. Construction workers could be seen working on the facility as recently as the day before the opener, but the opening match still went off relatively smoothly. A bank of flood lights did go out early in the match, but the fact the game began during daylight hours kept it from being a problem as the lights eventually turned back on before nightfall came.
For neutral observers, Thursday’s opener will be remembered for the match referee calling a highly-questionable penalty against Croatia, but the opener should be remembered for much more than that. It should be remembered for the Brazilians putting on an impressive show and kicking off the World Cup in style. The tournament has another month to go, but at least on opening night, the 2014 World Cup lived up to expectations.