SAO PAULO (AP) — Itaquerao Stadium shined under blue skies as Brazil kicked off its home World Cup with a football-style Carnival Thursday before thousands of dancing yellow-clad fans, who seemed eager to put construction delays and protests behind them.
Jennifer Lopez, rapper Pitbull and pop star Claudia Leitte bounced around a giant stage resembling a peeled melon singing the World Cup theme “We Are One” as Brazilian band Olodum banged drums below on this nation’s Valentine’s Day.
JLo, dressed in a low-cut sparkling green outfit, turned up for the performance despite earlier reports that she wouldn’t be able to attend.
Brazil is ready to samba, and plans to teach the world to join in for the coming month during the showcase tournament for the world’s most popular sport. The futebol-crazed country hoped Thursday’s Croatia-Brazil opener would be the start of a run to extend its record to six World Cup titles.
At one point at the end of the ceremony, fans chanted and booed against Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and soccer’s governing body, FIFA. Many in the nation have complained that spending on the World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics has diverted cash from the poor and infrastructure improvements.
Although traffic and transit strikes have plagued the sprawling Sao Paulo area in recent weeks, thousands made it into Itaquerao Stadium in plenty of time to party. The home fans cheered alongside small pockets of spirited Croatians in their checkered red and white tops.
The field was covered in multi-colored rays for the opening ceremony, which cost 18 million Brazilian reais, or about $8 million. A stadium worker died March 29 while installing temporary seats for the opener after construction already had been behind schedule.
Video highlights and memorable bloopers from past World Cups were shown on the big screens at either end of the stadium toward the conclusion of the 30-minute show.
The program was choreographed by Paulo Barros, a two-time winner of the samba school title at the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. After 100 hours of rehearsal and 31 auditions, circus artists and army soldiers were among those who performed.