Sao Paulo – Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets as protests broke out across Brazil just hours before the opening game of the World Cup on Thursday.
Black-shirted anarchist demonstrators lit bonfires of rubbish in Sao Paulo after armored police sought to quell protests ahead of Brazil's match with Croatia at 5:00pm (2000 GMT).
A cannister fired by police hit and injured a CNN journalist and an AFP correspondent saw one woman in tears clutching her arm.
The clashes came as the eyes of the football world turned to Sao Paulo's Corinthians Arena where 12 heads of state or government will be among VIPS in a 61,600 crowd watching the start of the month-long football extravaganza.
Preparations for the World Cup have been dogged by months of protests, reflecting widespread public anger over the record $11
billion lavished on the event.
In Sao Paulo, the launchpad for violent nationwide demonstrations last year which brought chaos to the Confederations Cup, protestors gathered near a metro station with a banner reading: “If we have no rights, there won't be a cup.”
Other protests angered some Brazilians looking forward to the tournament.
Residents in apartment complexes bedecked in Brazil flags cheered riot police as they advanced on a handful of fleeing protestors, chanting “Vai Policia (Go Police!)”.
In Rio de Janeiro, striking ground staff workers blocked a road leading to the city's international airport, snarling traffic before being broken up by police.
Most of the other World Cup cities were calm. But some took no chances. In Belo Horizonte, shopkeepers boarded up windows or drew down steel shutters.
Brazil's leftist President Dilma Rousseff has accused opponents of waging a “systematic campaign” against the World Cup and issued repeated warnings that a repeat of the Confederations Cup violence would not be tolerated.
But Luiz Gustavo, 19, journalism student dressed in black, told AFP: “Our strategy never was to stop the cup. The country is outraged at the waste on the World Cup.”
Despite being regarded as the spiritual home of football, Brazil has been slow to embrace World Cup fever.
Excitement has built slowly in the days leading to the event, with increasing numbers of Brazilian flags seen flying from cars, bars and apartment blocks.
A giant Brazilian flag was draped at the foot of Rio's iconic Christ the Redeemer Statue on Thursday.
But while more Brazilians are sporting the yellow jersey of star forward Neymar, discontent continues to simmer.
The multi-billion-dollar cost of the World Cup has angered many in a country which has under-funded health and public services and rampant violent crime.
Rage at poor public services morphed into a nationwide movement at the Confederations Cup test event, with deadly clashes rippling across the nation.
A vast security blanket is being deployed to shield the World Cup from unrest, with 150,000 soldiers and police on duty along with 20,000 private security officers.
Football's governing body Fifa begins the tournament under pressure over graft allegations linked to its decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.
Fifa secretary-general Jerome Valcke meanwhile said Thursday he was confident that after years of cajoling the organisers to speed up delivery of the stadiums things were now ready.
“Overall the stadiums are ready,” the 53-year-old Frenchman said. “Now it is more a problem of organisation than security.”
For all the off-field problems, the tournament itself has the makings of a classic.
Reigning champions Spain are bidding to make history by becoming the first side from Europe to win a World Cup in South America, which last hosted the tournament in 1978.
Vicente del Bosque's side have dominated international football for the past six years, winning two consecutive European championships either side of their 2010 World Cup triumph. – Sapa-AFP