Football: Carnival or chaos? World Cup poised for kick-off

Football: Carnival or chaos? World Cup poised for kick-off
Brazil has deployed more than 150,000 police and troops to prevent anti-World Cup demonstrations from disrupting the world's biggest sporting event.

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - The most trouble-plagued World Cup in history kicks off on Thursday with Brazilian organisers hoping for a carnival but bracing for chaos after a torrid build-up underscored by public anger at the tournament's multi-billion-dollar price tag.

A four-week feast of football in the spiritual homeland of the sport gets under way in the seething mega-city of Sao Paulo, where host nation Brazil face Croatia at 5pm local time (2000 GMT).

The start of the four-yearly extravaganza is the acid test for organisers and football's governing body FIFA, who have been scrambling to get Brazil ready for the biggest event in sport outside of the Olympics.

The first of 64 matches which culminate with the July 13 final in Rio de Janeiro will be staged in the Corinthians Arena, a venue which has become emblematic of a build-up besieged by setbacks.

Construction of the $424 million (313m euros) venue ground to a halt in November when a giant crane toppled over and killed two workers. A third labourer died in an accident in March. In total eight workers have died while racing to complete World Cup-related projects.

The 61,600-capacity arena is one of 12 World Cup stadiums that were due to be ready by the end of December. Six missed the initial deadline, with final delivery to FIFA eventually coming in late May.

Only this week, workers could be seen busily wiping seats, checking beams and installing wiring just days before the opener, which will be attended by 12 heads of state, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and assorted VIPs.

Blatter 'confident'

Yet FIFA officials are bullishly backing Brazil, with President Sepp Blatter, under-fire over corruption allegations rocking the global governing body, confident the country will unite behind the tournament.

"We at FIFA, we are confident, it will be a celebration," said Blatter. "After the tournament kicks off I think there will be a better mood." But the spectre of social unrest and transport chaos looms large.

A strike by Sao Paulo subway workers demanding better pay last week brought the city to a standstill, and led to baton-wielding riot police firing teargas to break up protesters before the walkout was suspended on Monday.

Union leaders have threatened to resume the strike during the tournament if their demands are not met. On Tuesday, subway workers in Rio de Janeiro, which hosts seven games including the final, threatened similar action.

Authorities are nervously eyeing the possibility of a repeat of nationwide protests that exploded around the FIFA Confederations Cup last year.

The estimated $11 billion Brazil is spending on the tournament has angered many in a country grappling with chronically under-funded health and public services, poor transport and violent crime.

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