MIAMI (Reuters) - Elie Iskandar, a Brazilian who lives in the United States, could not afford to travel home to see the World Cup. So he opted for what he called the next best thing - his favorite Brazilian hangout in Miami.
Expatriate Brazilians packed Miami-area bars and restaurants as the World Cup kicked off on Thursday, chanting, dancing and cheering on their national team in its opening 3-1 victory over Croatia.
At the Brazilian bar and restaurant Boteco, a party atmosphere took hold, with virtually everyone dressed in Brazil's famed yellow and green jersey. Those not wearing the jersey drew the occasional cold stare.
Some fans sipped Caipirinhas, Brazil's national cocktail, while others nibbled on Brazilian cheese bread rolls known as pao de queijo.
Iskandar said it was like a slice of home. "It's beautiful," he said.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, at least 325,000 Brazilians live in the United States, with sizable communities in New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Florida.
The Brazilian community in Miami is part of a growing South American population in south Florida that has more than doubled over the past decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
South Americans now represent the largest population group in parts of the Miami metropolitan area, including the suburban cities of Doral and Weston.
That means in coming days, contingents of Argentine, Colombian and Uruguayan fans living in Miami will have their turn to show support for their World Cup national teams.
An estimated 600,000 residents of South Florida were born in soccer-playing countries from Mexico to Central and South America.
On Thursday, however, it was all Brazil. Hours before kickoff, a group of Brazilian fans danced samba through downtown.
Paul de Lucena, a 34-year-old Brazilian from Recife, headed to Boteco after arriving in Miami on a connecting flight from New York, where he lives.
Lucena, who planned to stay overnight before flying home to Brazil, said he was determined to watch Brazil's first tournament match in the company of other Brazilians.
"It's wall-to-wall Brazilians. I love it," he said. "In New York, you could easily find yourself in a half-Croatian bar, but in Miami you know what you're going to find."
Editing by Kevin Gray and Peter Cooney