The 2014 World Cup is underway, with consensus-favorite Brazil seeking to win a record sixth World Cup title and its first since 2002, beating Croatia 3-1 in a Group A matchup at the Arena Corinthians, also referred to as Arena de Itaquera and Arena de São Paulo Itaquera in São Paulo. It is the only game scheduled for Thursday.
Brazil is ranked third in the world by World Cup organizer FIFA behind defending-champion Spain at number one and Germany in the second spot.
Other teams expected to challenge for this year's trophy include Argentina, Brazil's neighbor and fierce rival, along with European giants Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal.
Thursday's game followed an elaborate opening ceremony at the Arena Corinthians featuring American pop star Jennifer Lopez -- known as J-Lo -- Brazilian pop star Claudia Leitte and rapper Pitbull.
Hundreds of Brazilian protesters demonstrated across the country in the hours leading up to the opening game.
VOA's Scott Bobb reports hundreds of people gathered in downtown Rio de Janeiro to protest social policies and the billions of dollars Brazil spent on football stadiums. The demonstrators say they feel officials are neglecting the social services of Brazil. They say they plan to protest throughout the World Cup.
In São Paulo, dozens of protesters clashed with police near the Arena Corinthians stadium, which hosted the opening match. The run-up to the competition has been plagued by years of construction delays and budget overruns.
The government spent $11.5 billion to prepare for the month-long event, including building or upgrading stadiums in 12 cities hosting games among the 32-team field.
The tournament is played in two stages. The first lasts two weeks, with four teams in each of eight groups playing games against one another. The top two teams in each group then move on to a single-elimination bracket, with a champion being crowned on July 13.
Germany, which is aiming for its fourth World Cup title, is in the so-called "group of death" with fourth-ranked Portugal, the United States and Ghana, all of which made it to the round of 16 at the last World Cup in 2010.
Another group to watch is the only other to feature more than one top-10 team. It pits seventh-ranked Uruguay against ninth-ranked Italy, 10th-ranked England and number 28 Costa Rica.