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Brazil passes first test as World Cup host with memorable opener

After months of concern over large-scale public protests and stadium construction issues, Brazil excelled as the World Cup host by putting on a successful opening day.

SAO PAULO — Two trains, riding parallel tracks, rode in unison through the city on their way to a soccer game. The distinct yellow found in both sets of train cars streaked by, but as you slowed down the scene, you could see people on each train taking the time to wave to each other.

This moment captured the feeling in this city. Not the reports of small numbers of protestors causing a scene on the day the 2014 World Cup began. The vibe around the stadium normally known as Arena Corinthians was a positive one, as was the feeling in the capital of a nation gripped with World Cup fever after months of having disgruntled citizens capture the headlines for massive protests against the tournament.

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Thursday night’s World Cup opener was everything soccer fans and tournament organizers could have hoped for. The Brazilian national team did its part, delivering a strong performance in beating Croatia, 3-1. The stadium was filled with national pride as yellow jerseys covered all sides of the stadium.

The vibe in the city on this day was a positive one, save for the scenes of about 100 protestors clashing with police in midtown, clashes that led to one arrest and one injured TV producer. The disturbance grabbed headlines, but what resonated was the images of local residents beseeching the protestors, insisting that the small number protestors were troublemakers who didn’t speak for all Brazilians.

Make no mistake, this country has its issues, and protestors have a point about the millions being spent on the World Cup when the country needs so much. Brazilian citizens are fully aware. That much was made clear by the repeated choruses of profane chants aimed at Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff. Chants that were almost as loud as those reserved for Neymar or the Brazilian team, only not nearly as positive.

That was the extent of civil protest seen on this day, a day of pride for a country desperate to win a sixth World Cup and erase the memories of 1950, when Brazil failed in its attempt to win a World Cup at home.

This time around, the nation is facing the scrutiny of being a World Cup host in the modern age of Twitter and Instagram, when the world will pass judgment rather quickly on whether the country could really handle hosting this event.

The site of the opening match held up its end, with Arena De Sao Paulo looking like a worthy cathedral for the beautiful game rather than an incomplete construction project. Maybe the same can’t be said for all of Brazil’s World Cup stadiums just yet, but as far as Thursday’s opening-day party, one which included an impressive opening ceremonies, it was a complete hit.

World Cup hosts are not judged on just the opener though. Brazil put on a great first event, but a month’s worth of matches await, and soccer fans from all over the world will ultimately pass judgment on whether this country can host the beautiful game as well as it can play the beautiful game.

One thing is clear: Brazil is off to a very good start, on and off the field. All those fans clad in yellow who made their way here on those matching trains early on Thursday made their way back home happy and proud on Thursday night. Happy with a team that rewarded their faith, and proud of a country that came together to kick off the 2014 World Cup in style.

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