SAO PAULO — "Tudo bem" — all good — as the Brazilians say.
With a nationwide spasm of excitement but also tear gas, the country that sees itself as the artful soul of football but is conflicted about spending billions of dollars on hosting its showcase tournament kicked off one of the most troubled World Cups ever.
It roared to life Thursday with a 3-1 win for the home team in a stadium barely readied on time for the first of 64 matches in 12 cities.
The end of Brazil's 64-year wait for the World Cup to return to the country of Pele wasn't all parties and samba. There were protests in five host cities and chants against President Dilma Rousseff. But it wasn't close to the chaos that wracked last year's tuneup tournament, the Confederations Cup, when hundreds of thousands poured into the streets.
After a funky opening ceremony featuring J-Lo in low-cut sparkling green and dancers dressed as trees, Brazil's beloved national team, the star-studded Selecao, made an earnest if not brilliant start to the serious business of re-conquering planet futebol. Already the only nation with five world titles, a sixth victory in the July 13 final could assuage much — but not all — public anger about spending $11.5 billion on the tournament.
Brazil's first opponent was a resilient but ultimately outclassed Croatian side. The Itaquerao Stadium, which suffered chronic delays and worker deaths in its construction, was a sea of buttercup yellow, the color of the national team. Brazilian fans expect this crop of stars to deliver not just victory but football as art, the "Jogo bonito" — the beautiful game — that was the hallmark of great Brazilian teams.
The inaugural game had everything aficionados love — passion, drama, spectacle, goals and a refereeing controversy that immediately set fingers wagging on Twitter, showing how players, officials and organizers must live under the microscope of unprecedented social media scrutiny.