SÃO PAULO — Protesters and Brazilian police clashed in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and at least three other World Cup cities Thursday ahead of the first match of soccer’s premier event.
Just after the match started, about 300 protesters demonstrating against the World Cup marched along Rio’s Copacabana beach and stopped outside the FIFA Fan Fest — a closed and secured area on the beach where hundreds of fans watched the game on a massive screen.
The protesters were carrying banners with slogans knocking the Cup. The protest was peaceful, but there were worries that violence could break out as several adherents to anarchist tactics were seen in the crowd of demonstrators in Copacabana.
In São Paulo, more than 300 demonstrators gathered along a main highway leading to the stadium. Some tried to block traffic, but police repeatedly pushed them back, firing canisters of tear gas and using stun grenades. The flow of traffic to the arena was not blocked.
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A few protesters suffered injuries after being hit by rubber bullets, while others were seen choking after inhaling tear gas. An Associated Press photographer was injured in the leg after a stun grenade exploded near him. CNN reported on its website that two of its journalists were also injured.
“I’m totally against the Cup,” said protester Tameres Mota, a university student at the São Paulo demonstration. “We’re in a country where the money doesn’t go to the community, and meanwhile we see all these millions spent on stadiums.”
The president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, Sunil Gulati, denied a report that FIFA had asked it to form an organizing committee that could take over preparations for the 2022 World Cup if it is taken away from Qatar.
Gulati said the report, which appeared to originate with an ESPN reporter’s Twitter posting and spread quickly on social media, was false.
“They haven’t asked us, and I cannot imagine it happening anytime soon,” he said.
FIFA is investigating the bidding process for the 2022 tournament amid reports of bribery, and there has long been speculation that it could reverse its decision on the host.
• Spain faces the Netherlands on Friday in a rematch of the 2010 final, which it won 1-0. The Spaniards are also keeping an eye on the hosts, since Brazil thrashed them 3-0 in the Confederations Cup final last summer.
• Cristiano Ronaldo cut short a training session with Portugal, leaving the field with an ice pack over his left knee — indicating that tendinitis is still bothering him.
• American defender Timmy Chandler did not participate in training with his U.S. teammates because of a leg injury the team said it considers minor.
• Spain midfielder Cesc Fabregas is leaving Barcelona to return to London, signing a five-year deal with Chelsea that will put him up against his former club Arsenal.