Thousands of fans turned out to the Arena de Sao Paulo in Brazil this evening as the opening ceremony of the World Cup got underway.
Entertainers performed to the jubilant crowd as superstar Jennifer Lopez took to the stage to kick off the world’s biggest football tournament. The ceremony, which cost around £4.5million, was followed by the opening match of the month-long tournament - and hosts Brazil went behind within 15 minutes against Croatia after Marcelo scored an own goal.
The show began with children, dressed in the colours of the 32 nations, bouncing on trampolines as performers dressed as trees and flowers walked around the centre of the stadium. The colourful costumes were meant to represent the ‘nature phase’ of the show, which celebrated the rich diversity of Brazil.
Another 'phase' of the ceremony saw entertainers dressed as lifesize footballs and referees, as a nod to the start of the 2014 World Cup. All of the celebrations centred around a gigantic globe situated in the middle of the Corinthians Arena and performers – each dressed in an array of colourful outfits – danced in front of the excited crowd.
The globe displayed all of the flags of the countries taking part in the 2014 World Cup and resembled the Brazuca - the official ball of the competition. Superstar Jennifer Lopez, rapper Pitbull and Brazilian popstar Claudia Leitte headlined the show and bounced around the giant stage as they sang the official World Cup song 'We Are One (Ola Ola)'.
Miss Lopez wore a sparkling green sequin dress for the performance, which delighted fans following earlier reports she might not attend. The home fans – all in good spirits - cheered alongside small pockets of Croatians, who wore their team’s red and white jersey.
Preparations for the opening ceremony, which falls on Brazil’s Valentine’s Day, started in March. There were nearly 100 hours of rehearsals, with some 20 hours of artistic work going into each minute of the ceremony. Organisers held a total of 31 auditions to choose the show's performers and circus artists and army soldiers were among those selected.
Each of the props used in the ceremony were specially designed with an even weight distribution so as not to cause any damage to the playing surface, which was covered for the opening celebration. Video highlights and memorable bloopers from past World Cups were shown on the big screens at either end of the stadium towards the end of the 30-minute show.
At the end of the ceremony, fans chanted and booed against Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and football’s governing body, FIFA. Nearly half the world's population, well over three billion people, are expected to watch as the hosts play Croatia in Sao Paulo tonight.
Many in Brazil 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 the stadium for tonight’s party.
Earlier today, riot police in Brazil fired rubber bullets and baton-charged protesters as violent clashes broke out just hours before the World Cup celebrations kicked off. Noise bombs were also let off near the Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo to disperse a crowd of about 200 demonstrators angry about government overspending on the event.