Opener: Stunned silence, followed by elation

Brazilian soccer fans react while watching the opening World Cup match between Brazil and Croatia...

Brazilian soccer fans react while watching the opening World Cup match between Brazil and Croatia in Recife, June 12, 2014. (YVES HERMAN/Reuters)

Kurtis Larson, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:24 AM ET

SALVADOR - At the base of a favela, along a lakeside road leading up to Arena Fonte Nova, rush hour didn't exist Thursday night.

The same stretch of road that was bumper-to-bumper most of the day Wednesday sat empty.

It was eerie, the kind of silence normally reserved for coastal cities in the path of a Category 3 hurricane.

When Brazil's Marcelo booted in an own goal that gave Croatia a shocking lead 11 minutes into the World Cup opener in Sao Paulo, things somehow got even quieter inside a Salvador shanty that hosted me and dozens of others.

Like Category 5 hurricane quieter.

Then the storm arrived.

When Neymar's left-footed grass-cutter levelled the match in the 29th minute, all hell broke loose at this hole-in-the-wall bar, a dive that only served beer and fried meat.

Yellow-clad kids, maybe seven- or eight-years-old, lit fireworks that sounded like military-grade bombs as a dull roar rolled from the Brazilian slum above.

For that moment in time, it didn't seem to matter that some of their homes didn't have lights. Or that the bar -- it was really a shack -- we were in featured little more than a beer fridge in the corner and a cement floor.

Still, at halftime, this crowd north of Sao Paulo, was full of disappointment.

This is a country that prefers to win in style.

And winning courtesy a bogus penalty didn't exactly instill confidence.

The bar crowd here in Salvador looked fairly terrified until Oscar made it 3-1 in stoppage time, causing my already-drunk bartender to do a samba at my table, a confusing end to a match where the score didn't reflect the scoreline.

THE PENALTY

It wasn't one.

Brazil's Fred did well to draw it, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't cost him.

Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura decided Thursday's World Cup opener, and now it's time for FIFA to decide on Fred's fate.

The Brazilian forward undoubtedly embellished a 71st-minute penalty that gifted Brazil three points. Unfortunately for Nishimura, his vantage point was from straight on, meaning he likely couldn't see exactly how much contact was made between Fred and the defender on his back.

That said, considering referees use ear pieces to communicate in-game, Nishimura should have inquired with his assistant, who was in better position to make the call, which should have been no call.

For Fred, the appropriate punishment for making the referee look silly should be a two-game (rest of group play) suspension.

But we all know nothing will happen.

TOUGH CROWD

You've heard of a tough crowd?

Brazil's bar culture might be the toughest bunch of critics I've ever seen.

Had the citizens here in Salvador been holding tomatoes instead of bad beer, they likely would have hurled them at the TV.

Two minutes into Thursday's World Cup opener, one guy started tearing into his fellow countrymen following their below-par start.

He got up, walked towards the TV -- hands out -- and started yelling at the screen.

After gulping down a half-dozen pints, he didn't stick around for the second half.

Apparently the expectation here is world domination. Anything less isn't worth watching.

CESAR IN TEARS

It was beautiful to see former Toronto FC goalkeeper Julio Cesar in tears during the anthems in Sao Paulo.

The 34-year-old thought his time with Brazil's national team was coming to an end following a disappointing finish at the 2010 World Cup.

Watching Cesar attempt to sing Hino Nacional Brasileiro made you want to give him a hug, to share in the emotion a player feels before representing their country, at the highest level, in front of home fans.

When Croatia went in front, Cesar was the first out of goal with words of encouragement to pick his teammates up.

When Neymar leveled the proceedings midway through the first half, the elation on his face was as strong as the tears were 30 minutes earlier.

CANADIAN CONNECTION

Niagara Falls, Ont.-native Joe Fletcher will run the line during Saturday's Colombia-Greece Group C match in Belo Horizonte.

The Major League Soccer official, the lone Canadian referee at this tournament, is on a four-man team with U.S. referee Mark Geiger, fellow assistant Mark Sean Hurd (U.S.) and fourth official Alireza Faghani of Iran.

"The day you think you know it all or you've got this pretty much figured out is probably the day you start going downward," Fletcher told QMI Agency before the tournament.

The 37-year-old Fletcher, who works as an accountant in St. Catharines, Ont., has extensive experience refereeing CONCACAF Gold Cup tournaments and a FIFA Club World Cup.

Fletcher has also been an assistant in 50-plus Major League Soccer games dating back to 2007.

The referee selection at a World Cup is a multiple-year process. Fletcher was monitored at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan in 2012.

Some referees at the World Cup receive as much as $50,000 in pay for two months of work.

Performance will determine if Fletcher's North American-based team is assigned games past the group phase.


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