It was a sea of protest and celebration in Brazil Thursday as the World Cup host team won its opening game amid violent clashes between protestors and police in Sao Paulo.
Helicopters whirred over the highway leading to the main soccer arena ahead of Brazil’s match against Croatia while police tried to corral some 300 protestors with tear gas and stun grenades.
Cops also fired rubber bullets to disperse the crowds, which contained anarchists from the “Black Bloc” movement that used violence and vandalism to help shut down the 1999 World Trade Summit in Seattle.
The Associated Press said one of its photographers suffered a leg injury after a stun grenade exploded nearby, and CNN on its website said two of its journalists were also injured.
“I’m totally against the Cup,” said protester Tameres Mota, a university student at the Sao Paulo demonstration.
“We’re in a country where the money doesn’t go to the community, and meanwhile we see all these millions spent on stadiums,” she said.
Another 300 protestors marched near Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, but that gathering was peaceful.
But Brazil also got its samba on. Jennifer Lopez, dressed in a dazzling green, sequined leotard, performed at the opening ceremony.
The 44-year-old Bronx-born entertainer sang the World Cup anthem “We Are One” with rapper Pitbull and singer Claudia Leitte.
The excitement over the international event was also found in the Big Apple, which was awash in yellow-and-green shirts ahead of kick-off.
Brazil, heavy favorites to go deep into the tournament and possibly win it all, got off to a slow start but then slid into an easy 3-1 win.
Croatian fans wound up as outmanned in local bars as they were on the soccer field.
“The first game is always the most difficult. But we won this one, now I know we are going to take it all,” said a confident Paulo Knobel, 54.
The Brazilian caught the game and knocked back a few cold Caipirinhas at Via Brasil on 46th St. in Manhattan, the heart of the borough’s Little Brazil.
The streets were lined
with screaming fans who craned their necks to watch the games on large-screen TVs hanging from the walls .
The only solemn moment came when the national anthem played at the start of the game — the crowd stopped shouting long enough to sing along.
The party also was in full swing in Astoria, Queens, where Brazilians invaded the beer garden at Studio Square NYC and small pockets of Croatians joked they had to get bodyguards.
“(Soccer) is in my blood. I can’t fight it. It can’t get any better than hosting. We better win it,” said Sabrina Rodrigues, 32, who is from Brazil.
She said she has “mixed feelings” about the demonstrations back home and the allegations of corruption and misspent money.
One of the few Croatian fans in the bar, Tvrtko Stigler, 30, decided it was safer to cheer in silence when his team took an early lead, scoring the first goal against the Brazilians.
“I’m staying quiet! If they score, I’m going to cheer for Brazil,” Stigler joked.
The Brazilian team didn’t give him any reason to cheer. By game’s end, they’d racked up their third and final goal, easily clinching the win.
That sent the Brazilians into a frenzy of drumming and table dancing amid Portuguese chants of “I am Brazilian, a proud Brazilian,” while Croatian fans grumbled about a bad call in the second half that set up Brazil to score. “It’s the way it went down. We were hosed. … Brazil got the win but they gotta put their head down about it,” said Andy Nikic, 28.
He pepped himself up by noting that Brazil was in such political disarray that there would have been “riots” if they’d lost.
“We were really trying to keep world peace is what we were doing,” joked his friend Tommy Jelcic, 30.
With News Wire Services