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City streets brighten up to the Samba beat

A Brazil fan, her face brightly painted, smiles for the camera before the World Cup's opening match between Brazil and Croatia at Arena de Sao Paulo.

The greatest competition in world sport got underway in a blaze of colour on Thursday. More than 60,000 people crowded into Sao Paulo's Corinthians Arena for the opening ceremony. Another billion people worldwide watched on television.

The show kicked off with a giant LED ball centrepiece flashing welcome messages in the languages of the 32 qualifying countries.

Performers from dance schools and academies in the city then flooded into the stadium dressed as symbols of Brazil's stunning natural landscape: raindrops, men towering on stilts dressed as rainforest trees and colourful flowers.

To close the 'diversity'-themed second half of the ceremony, US star Pitbull and the sexy superstar singer, Jennifer Lopez, were joined by Brazilian pop star Claudia Leitte for their performance of the official Fifa World Cup song, We Are One (Ole Ola).

Much of Sao Paulo – Brazil's biggest city and financial capital – resembled a ghost town after a partial holiday was declared to ensure traffic to the opening ceremony would be light.

But excitement began to spread by mid-morning, with fans waving Brazil flags boarding trains heading to the stadium and Croatian supporters drinking beer on Avenida Paulista, the city's best-known thoroughfare.

Elsewhere, though, police clashed with protesters in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and several other host cities.

Officers used tear gas on crowds in Sao Paulo hours before the Brazil-Croatia match, which the hosts won 3-1.

Several people were also injured after scuffles broke out in Rio.

Protesters are angry at how much the government has spent on preparations for the World Cup and the Olympics, which Rio will host in 2016.

The stakes are high on and off the pitch.

Whether the tournament proves a success may also have an effect on President Dilma Rousseff's chances for re-election in October.

She has dismissed complaints about overspending and construction delays and has urged Brazilians to get behind the national team.

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