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World Cup 2014: Greatest show on earth kicks off

Brazil bursts into riot of colour, song and samba at opening ceremony of the World Cup 2014

By Tom Peck and AP

Brazil kicked off one of the most troubled World Cups ever amid a nationwide atmosphere of excitement mingled with tear gas.

As 200 protesters clashed with riot police in the streets of Sao Paulo, five miles away in the Arena Corinthians Jennifer Lopez was making an appearance in a low-cut sparkling green outfit with dancers dressed as trees.

At least one person was detained by police as the promised protests materialised, but inside the stadium –which was barely ready on time – Brazil's beloved national team was about to embark on the extremely serious business of conquering a sixth world title.

During the opening ceremony, dancers dressed as lilac teardrops ran in concentric circles around a glowing 'living ball' which opened like a Terry's Chocolate Orange to reveal Lopez, the rapper Pitbull and the Brazilian pop singer Claudia Leitte, who sang the World Cup theme tune, We Are One.

More than 600 dancers paid tribute to the country's "nature and people", but those in the stands were hard-pressed to comprehend quite how, as schoolboys played keepie-up with balls on ropes, and the usual cast of gymnasts in medieval jester-style outfits did somersaults.

If it all felt a little short, it was in no small part because neither the Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff nor Fifa President Sepp Blatter made speeches, fearful of the loud booing that met them at the Confederations Cup last year. Ms Rousseff has pleaded for Brazilians to welcome visitors "just as Brazil has been welcomed at other tournaments".

Below the 20,000-seat temporary stands, Brazil fans milled about in the concourses like bees in a hive. On the pitch, there were men dressed as trees turning in circles, bright humanoid flowers in pink and green, and women in wide dresses.

When the 'living ball' was dismantled, the pitch covering rolled away, and the Selecao – as the Brazilian team likes to call itself – ran on the pitch, many with their fingers pointed first to the stands and then to the sky, the noise suddenly loud, intense and expectant.

Brazil's first opponent was Croatia. The first half was everything fans love about football – gut-wrenching, full of passion, drama and twists.

Brazilian defender Marcelo looked stunned after he quickly scored an own-goal. Despite the nightmare start, Brazil came back to win – something the country will perhaps be hoping will come to symbolise this year's competition.

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