World Cup kicks off with protests in Sao Paulo
BRAZIL kicked off the 2014 Fifa World Cup with a vibrant Opening Ceremony - but for hundreds of protesters in Sao Paulo the day marked the beginning of a tournament which has sucked millions of dollars away from the country's starved public services.
While demonstrations had largely died down by kick-off in the evening, the afternoon saw clashes between the police and protesters in Sao Paulo.
At least one protester was arrested, and two journalists from US broadcaster CNN were injured as police and protest, according local media and the broadcaster's website.
Officers fired tear gas and used noise bombs in an attempt to disperse the 100-strong crowd, a spokesman for Sao Paulo state's military police said.
But two hours later, the activists had regrouped three blocks away, and were seen throwing rocks at the police and setting fire to rubbish bins.
The demonstrators had gathered to protest against heavy public spending on the tournament, after the government had assured Brazilians that the vast majority of funding would come from the private sector.
Protesters then attempted to take advantage of Thursday's opening ceremony to draw attention to their cause, by cutting off a key avenue leading to the Corinithians Arena where Brazil will play Croatia at 8pm (GMT).
Industrial action and further protests were also planned across Brazil's 12 host cities, including a 24-hour slowdown by some airport workers in Rio de Janeiro, although the threat of a long subway strike in Sao Paulo had eased.
About a dozen disgruntled airport workers blocked a road outside Rio's international airport on Thursday morning, causing heavy traffic.
Some businesses in Rio, the venue for seven Cup games, including the final, had boarded up windows and doors by late on Wednesday in case protests erupted.
However, the protests are tame in comparison to action last year which saw a million people gather in Sao Paulo's streets on a single night.
Many Brazilians feel betrayed that the over $11.3 billion has been spent on hosting the World Cup, when basic social services in the country continue to be poorly financed.
Their pessimism has so far overshadowed a brighter mood among the some 800,000 foreign tourists expected to arrive Brazil for the event.
Melisa da Silva, who wore Brazil's green and yellow colours as she headed to work on the subway, said the country may cheer up once play begins.
"Well, it's here, and I think now it's time to cheer the team," she said. "I don't see why people should still be sad."
The build-up to the tournament in the country widely considered to be the spiritual home of football has been marred by construction delays and months of political unrest. How smoothly the tournament runs will likely affect President Dilma Rousseff's chances for re-election in October, as well as Brazil's flagging reputation among investors.
Polls show she now holds a lead of about 10 percentage points over her likely rival if the election goes to a second round, as most expect.
President Rousseff has dismissed complaints about overspending and delays in preparing stadiums and airports, and is betting Brazil will put on a show on and off the field.