It was a night for Brazil's class of 2014 to try and live up to their country's towering football image.
When Pele and company dazzled so brightly in their brilliant yellow back in 1970, earning the Jules Rimet trophy for keeps, Brazil became the benchmark.
They became the dream yardstick by which football idealists measured the mere mortals.
Time has failed to dull the appeal of world football's most successful nation, but Luiz Felipe Scolari's team strode out at the imposing Arena Corinthians on Thursday to kick-off their home FIFA World Cup against Croatia with reality feeling some distance apart from fantasy.
A lacklustre showing in last week's friendly against Serbia brought boos from the terraces, while fears that social unrest might spill over around the tournament were unfortunately realised.
Police fired rubber bullets and used tear gas on protesters in Sao Paulo earlier in the day. Their grievance is that money spent on the World Cup has come at the expense of vital social services.
The beautiful, evocative image of a nation enraptured by football, dancing and good times is inaccurate and more than a little patronising in the 21st century. The Brazilians at odds with their own police on the streets before kick-off, taking mass action to express need, demonstrated this with uncomfortable clarity.
Nevertheless, sport at its best has the capacity to lift the collective mind above life's cruelties and ills, and this World Cup opener provided a heady example.
National anthems are a par-for-the-course formality across many sporting events, but the ferocity and passion with which the masses roared their national him inside the Arena Corinthians was something to behold.
Goalkeeper Julio Cesar appeared to be crying and was almost certainly not alone.
The emotional tone was set perfectly for this most grand of stages, but all great dramas need a compelling antagonist. Croatia played this role to perfection.
Far from intimidated by the occasion, Niko Kovac's men took a deserved early lead as Marcelo suffered the ignominy of becoming the first Brazilian to score an own goal at the World Cup.
In danger of fluffing their lines, Brazil needed a hero. From Pele through to Zico and Ronaldo, they've tended to have them. The footballers of our dreams.
Step forward the golden boy. Barcelona forward Neymar drove at the Croatia defence to find the bottom corner and his adoring public into raptures.
He would do likewise from the penalty spot - not the last generous call the hosts would benefit from on the night - in the second half and depart to a standing ovation, watching on as the excellent Oscar completed a 3-1 triumph in sensational style.
Neymar and his team-mates might have impossible standards to live up to, but this was a useful start.
The anthem. Neymar. Oscar. Snapshots of the dream football we all cherish. Here's to not waking up for 31 days.
|10||Neymar||27' 29' 71'|
|Coach: Luiz Felipe Scolari|
for Paulinho 63'
for Hulk 68'
for Neymar 88'
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