The OPERA neutrino detector in the underground Gran Sasso Laboratory (LNGS) has been designed to perform the first detection of neutrino oscillations in direct appearance mode through the study of the v(mu) -> v(tau) channel. The hybrid apparatus consists of an emulsion/lead target complemented by electronic detectors and it is placed in the high energy long-baseline CERN to LNGS beam (CNGS) 730 km away from the neutrino source. Runs with CNGS neutrinos were successfully carried out in 2008 and 2009. After a brief description of the beam, the experimental setup and the procedures used for the analysis of the neutrino events, we describe the topology and kinematics of a first candidate v(tau) charged-current event satisfying the kinematical selection criteria. The background calculations and their cross-check are explained in detail and the significance of the event is assessed. (C) 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.