Brazil has spent $11.5 billion to host soccer's World Cup, sparking protests throughout a country that has one of the highest income inequality rates in the world. Three out of every four Brazilians polled say they are convinced that corruption has tinged the myriad works related to the Cup, which claims to be the world's biggest single-event sporting competition and runs today through July 13. Today's high-profile opening match between Brazil and Croatia will be played in Sao Paolo at a stadium that has had so many construction delays, the roof won't be finished until after the tournament. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff rebuked the "pessimists" this week, calling on all Brazilians to support the national team, which has won the quadrennial competition a record five times. "I'm certain that in the 12 host cities, visitors are going to mix with a happy, generous and hospitable people and be impressed by a nation full of natural beauty and which fights each day to become more equal," Rousseff said.
Can the U.S. win?
No. U.S. soccer has improved greatly in the past decade or so, but this team has only six players with World Cup experience. It competes in one of the toughest groups for round-robin play, against Germany, Portugal and Ghana. (The top two finishers in each of the competition's eight groups advance to single-elimination play.) Even coach Jurgen Klinsmann acknowledges the Americans aren't ready to go all the way: "We cannot win this World Cup because we are not at that level yet," he told the New York Times. "For us, we have to play the game of our lives seven times to win the tournament."
Who will win?
Many, including Las Vegas oddsmakers, consider Brazil the favorite. Other top contenders are Argentina, Germany and defending champion Spain. The Spanish hope to become the first repeat winners since Brazil in 1958 and '62.
Brazil is trying to become the first nation to win the World Cup at home since France in 1998. The Brazilians were eliminated in the quarterfinals of the past two tournaments, by France in 2006 and the Netherlands in 2010.
'Stray dog complex'
Brazil last hosted the World Cup in 1950, and a 2-1 loss to Uruguay in the game that decided the championship still haunts the country. A column written in 1958 by playwright Nelson Rodrigues talks of Brazil suffering from "stray dog complex" after that loss.
"Uruguay kicked Brazil around as if they were a bunch of stray dogs," Rodrigues wrote.
That notion of Brazil not quite being in synch with the developed world has persisted. It manifests itself as a "chronic inferiority complex, this idea that everything works better abroad," deputy sports minister Luis Fernandes said. "Every time there's a difficult situation, a trace of this inferiority complex comes back."
That's why a World Cup victory by Brazil would be so important for the national psyche.
"The perfect storm is they lose and (their hosting) is a mess," said former Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs Jorge Castañeda, who teaches at New York University.
But Tony Volpon, who heads emerging market research for the Americas at Nomura Securities International, said the world shouldn't underestimate Brazilian resilience: "It's not going to be a mess. The country will pull together."
Can you get tickets?
Organizers said 2.9 million tickets have been sold to the monthlong event. Tickets still were available for at least 15 matches as of Wednesday. Plenty were available for matches between less prominent nations, but only tickets in the highest-priced categories remained for the better matches. FIFA, the world governing body for soccer, said a total of about 3.1 million tickets will be sold.
Information from the Associated Press, CNN, the Miami Herald, the New York Times and the Sporting News was used in this report.