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Jun 12, 2014

An unforgettable opening day

2014 FIFA World Cup Group A: Brazil 3-1 Croatia

SAO PAULO -- Up until the stilted tree-walkers spun around in circles, and a paralyzed man in a Neymar jersey kicked the first ball with a mind-controlled bionic exoskeleton, and singer Claudia Leitte danced her way out of a 7,000-nit LED globe, and Pitbull and Jennifer Lopez joined her, and they all hugged each other and sank back into the Earth, and a squadron of people with soccer balls for heads ran into the tunnel, and the entire crowd chanted at Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff to "f--- off" in Portuguese, and the public-address announcer requested applause for the three construction workers who'd died making the building we were now sitting in, and said building ran out of food before kickoff, and "Thunderstruck" by AC/DC blared over the speakers, and both teams walked out holding the hands of small children, and a Brazilian colleague who demanded anonymity warned me before the national anthem that he might "get emotional," and did, as everyone here kept singing the Hino Nacional Brasileiro long after the music stopped, a capella, and workers released three white doves that had zero chance of flying all the way out of the open roof of the Arena de Sao Paulo, and Marcelo's brain broke soon after the actual game started, causing the first own goal in Brazilian World Cup history, and everyone who'd just been scream-singing fell ghastly silent, and Neymar then tried to equalize with his right foot, and failed, and Paulinho tried with his right, and failed, and Oscar tried with his left, and failed, and Hulk tried with his left, and failed, and eight banks of lights along the right side of the roof randomly stopped working -- only the latest metaphor in an infrastructure trembling with them -- and the entire enterprise began to feel like one of those say-f----off-to-the-computer games where you hit reset on your Xbox, and Neymar's left somehow came through on what was either 29th minute genius or the most cathartic scuff in memory, and this city celebrated like it was the end of the movie "Independence Day," with fireworks exploding in a panorama against a faint pink sky, sending all the smoke wafting into the stadium right where one of the doves was thankfully flapping around, still alive (metaphor!), and all the lights flickered back on (metaphor!), and a cool breeze began to blow though the press box (metaphor!), mussing hair, and a serene second half began to feel, well, refractory, and Fred suddenly shattered that sense of calm with one of those egregious dives in the box that make some people announce that they loathe soccer (as if this sport has a monopoly on flopping), and Neymar -- who else? -- stutter-kicked the resulting penalty past Stipe Pletikosa, and President Rousseff was shown deliriously fist-pumping in the back of her luxury box, and everyone here again started booing, and Oscar's right foot found the net in the last minute, and everyone here again started dancing, setting off yet more fireworks throughout the largest city in South America, it genuinely looked like this, the first game of the first World Cup I have ever been to, would not be everything that I had imagined.

I am so glad that it was.

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