If you looked carefully between the wide-open corners of the stadium, you could also see the flashes of firecrackers – and god knows what else – bouncing off the night sky from the teeming favelas and run-down urban districts of this heaving, seething metropolis.
Smog hangs heavy in the thick dusk air of the Americas’ largest city, a meaty, acrid stench of life and death, love and hate; a very contradiction of existence.
A contradiction that runs right through Brazilian life, and through its national team.
Beauty and the beast. That’s Brazil for you.
In recent months it has been all beast, with crippling strikes and protests threatening to scupper the opening extravaganza of this World Cup.
There was more of the beauty on show tonight, but the beast also played an inevitable part.
Seconds before announcing his arrival at this World Cup, Brazil’s golden man-child Neymar could easily have seen his match and tournament ended. His stray forearm – preceded by a knowing glance – was punished with a yellow by the Japanese referee. The sense of fear in the home support was tangible, as players from both sides squared off. It was as vocal as their rip-roaringly loud national anthem, and the oohs and aahs that greeted every half-chance and crunching tackle.
But for all their exciting, joyous attacking play, Brazil, in keeping with the national mood, were a mini-shambles at the back. It was fitting that the match should start with an own-goal, as the nation has been shooting itself in the foot since winning the right to host these finals, and the 2016 Olympics. And it was similarly fitting that it should end in victory, and thanks to a dodgy penalty no less.
I’ve trodden those faults and conflicts in earlier posts, but it seems this juxtaposition is built into the national psyche: a people bursting with love and emotion, but with an undeniably violent, nihilistic streak; a nation with successive social democratic governments seeking to narrow the gap between rich and poor, but which clings on to its all-or-nothing economic tradition.
The football team also operates a sort of boom-or-bust policy; on the occasions when coaches have turned them into functional, defensive units, the nation has rejected, in spite of any on-pitch success which may have come their way.
Brazil need to improve at the back, which they may well do as they grow into the group stage. Discipline is also a minor issue, with several flashpoints on show during the match.
Despite these frailties, I have no doubt Brazil will go far in this tournament, and they remain my favourites to win it. But victory or failure, boom or bust, the result will be spectacular, dramatic and beautifully flawed.
It is a touch trite (if inevitable) that we compare brutal social division to Jekyll-and-Hyde football, but – like his political counterpart Dilma Rousseff – Luiz Felipe Scolari has attempted to moderate the Selecao’s excesses.
But for all his talk of calm, teamwork and unity, his charges still play with the unbridled joy of a force of nature – it’s in the DNA.
Eurosport’s Reda Maher is on location in Brazil for the duration of the 2014 World Cup - follow him on Twitter @Reda_Eurosport
- Sports & Recreation