But with a slender 1-0 victory against Croatia, Brazil ended their first group match on Tuesday in second place to Australia, who scored three goals in their opener.

Worse still, the match saw star striker saw Ronaldo 'The Phenomenon' become Ronaldo 'The Phantom'.

"This was an historic moment," leading pundit Paulo Vinicius Coelho told Brazilian viewers on the leading station, TV Globo. "Ronaldo substituted to the jeers of the fans."

On a scorching day as Brazil heads for what it calls 'winter', in the country's biggest city, S?o Paulo, everywhere from courts to supermarkets, banks to corner shops closed their doors as the country settled down to watch.

It's more traditional in Brazil to watch big matches at home rather than crowd into bars, but at the start of Brazil's campaign to retain their crown and notch up a record six World Cup titles there was electricity in the air across the country.

Controversy

Patients in S?o Paulo's Clinicas
hospital get their daily dose

Watching together, as they have been since the opening of each match since 1986, were friends Paulinho, Ade and Waldele.

"The controversy will be all about Ronaldo from now until Sunday," says Paulinho, referring to the next match against Australia. "A fair result would have been a draw, to be honest. All the supporters expected more from Brazil."

With family and friends crammed expectantly on to the sofa, chairs and floor, everyone was willing Ronaldo to score and beat Pele's record as Brazil's all-time top World Cup marksman.

But as the match wore on, every move – or rather lack of it – from the Real Madrid striker was criticised and his substitution for the more lively Robinho was applauded all round.

"The team has a lot of talent and could win the World Cup but today was disappointing and Ronaldo symbolised that," says Paulinho.

"He was out of form, but I'd expect he'll play the next game. It's not party day. The final score 1-0 isn't the problem, the football was a lot less than we'd hoped for."

Blisters

Captain Kaka: The hero of the
hour

While the rest of the world focuses on the world's best player, Ronaldinho, Brazil's media have for days been obsessing about Ronaldo's blisters, Ronaldo's fever and Ronaldo's weight.

This is Ronaldo's fourth World Cup, he has won twice, and he is a talisman for the country.

This week his spat with the Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the Brazilian president, was front page material. A condensed version would read:

- Ronaldo, are you fat as the media say?
- President, are you a drunkard as the media say?

But his non-performance against Croatia has the country questioning itself again. In truth, Brazil have a 'quintet magico' with Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Adriano, Kaka and Robinho and four into five won't go.

Much of Brazil shuts down when
the team are on the pitch

Now, akin to asking Spain to play without Raul, the manager Carlos Alberto Parriera must consider dropping Brazil's World Cup number one.

"I thought it could have been better," says Waldele. "That idea of the magic four, I was expecting more. Ronaldo seemed like he had weights in his boots, he wasn't moving, wasn't taking part in the play-making."

Calm Cafu

"The best was the defence, Croatia were very offensive in the last 10 minutes, I had my finger's crossed. I thought our captain, Cafu, was the best player, he was calm and safe.

Brazil's president and first lady
celebrate Kaka's goal

"I don't think the team is arrogant, I think the team respects the opposition. To be favourites is difficult, but I don't think this is weighing them down, " she says.

Brazil have never been such cast-iron favourites, and it's not just from the pundits – a poll in the daily Folha de Sao Paulo found that 82% of the city's residents thought that Brazil would win again.

Across S?o Paulo, those places that had to stay open - like Latin America's largest public hospital, Clinicas - erected huge screens and workplaces organised special TV rooms. And this only for the opening game.

With horns blaring like a herd of cows and a sea of yellow and green in the streets, the match brought Brazil to a standstill – and the famously party-loving people hope it will continue for at least a month.

When Kaka ultimately scored his winning firecracker, Brazil responded with a display of it's own over S?o Paulo's endless skyscrapers.

Despite the margin of victory it was three points in the bag and the festivities, albeit slightly subdued, continued well into the night.