Brazil in countdown for World Cup start

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Brazil in countdown for World Cup start
In this May 13, 2014, photo,This aerial view shot through an airplane window shows the Maracana stadium behind the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As opening day for the World Cup approaches, people continue to stage protests, some about the billions of dollars spent on the World Cup at a time of social hardship, but soccer is still a unifying force. The international soccer tournament will be the first in the South American nation since 1950. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana, File)
Maracana stadium seen before the last Brazilian league soccer match in the stadium between Fluminense and Sao Paulo, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Brazil will host the World Cup soccer tournament starting on 12 June and Maracana stadium will host the World Cup Final match on 13 July. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
FILE - This March 26, 2014, file photo, released, by Portal da Copa, shows an aerial view of the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Portal da Copa, Daniel Basil, File) - SEE FURTHER WORLD CUP CONTENT AT APIMAGES.COM
In this May 11, 2014 photo, a couple takes a selfie during the Brazilian league soccer match between Fluminense and Flamengo, at Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Experts say Cup visitors will discover that Brazil’s mobile communications services are severely lacking, mostly because the government and telephone companies are ill-prepared for the month-long tournament. Some even worry about possible mobile network blackouts. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne visits the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, April 7, 2014. The city of Rio de Janeiro will host the Olympics in 2016. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
A house painted with the colors of Germany is seen at the Complexo do Alemao slum, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, May 22, 2014. The upcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup starts on 12 June. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
A man, far right, looks out from a barco regional (regional boat) as it docks in the port of Manacapuru, after departing from Manaus, Brazil, Thursday, May 22, 2014. The riverboats are usually two or three decks and travel between towns and villages. Manaus is one of the host cities for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
A man sits next to a dog in the port of Manacapuru, near Manaus, Brazil, Thursday, May 22, 2014. Manaus is one of the host cities for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
Youth who are part of the Magic Football Club train on the beach of Cite Soleil in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, May 22, 2014. This year's World Cup soccer tournament will be be hosted by Brazil starting in June. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)
A man sits in a barco regional (regional boat) in the port of Manacapuru, after departing from Manaus, Brazil, Thursday, May 22, 2014. The riverboats are usually two or three decks and travel between towns and villages. Manaus is one of the host cities for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
Police helicopter hovers in front of the National Stadium during a practice for security operations for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, May 22, 2014. The football stadium is a multi-purpose arena that will host games during the 2014 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament that starts in June. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
A woman walks on a street decorated for the upcoming World Cup in Manaus, Brazil, Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Manaus is one of the host cities for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
In this photo released by sportsbet.com.au, a hot air balloon in the likeness of Brazil’s Christ The Redeemer statute, wearing the colors of Australia's soccer team, floats over the Melbourne skyline Tuesday, June 10, 2014. Australia will begin their 2014 soccer World Cup campaign with a match against Chile, Saturday, in Cuiaba. (AP Photo/sportsbet.com.au, Dave Callow) EDITORIAL USE ONLY
In this Thursday, June 5, 2014 photo, people play soccer at the Tavares Bastos slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Whether professional-grade or improvised, in high-rent neighborhoods or tucked into “favela” hillside slums, soccer fields are literally everywhere throughout this chaotic metropolis of 12 million. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
Honduras’ national soccer team members arrive at the Sao Paulo International airport in Brazil, Monday, June 9, 2014. Honduras will play in group E of Brazil's 2014 soccer World Cup. (AP Photo/Paulo Duarte)
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) - About 300,000 visitors from around the world are expected to attend World Cup matches across Brazil, from the steamy Amazon region in the north to the chillier pampa climes in the south to Rio de Janeiro, where the Christ the Redeemer statue spreads his arms high above the Maracana stadium where the tournament's final game will be.

The monthlong event starts June 12, when Brazil's largest city, Sao Paulo, hosts the opening game.

Last-minute preparations are still being completed for the onslaught of fans, with finishing touches on stadiums where the games will be played and at airports where visitors will arrive.

Vendors are arranging World Cup merchandise from key chains to T-shirts. Some merchandise features a cartoon rendering of the tournament's official mascot, Brazil's three-banded armadillo, which can roll up into a soccer-like ball when startled.

Security is being beefed up, with 157,000 soldiers and police assigned to keep order during the tournament. More protests are expected against the billions shelled out by the government to host the event, but authorities say they don't anticipate demonstrations will be as intense as those seen last year. Some police officers have sought to use World Cup security worries to pressure for pay raises, staging strikes that brought looting and other chaos.

The World Cup seems to be on everyone's mind as residents of cities around Brazil paint walls with soccer-inspired graffiti - some of it welcoming the tournament, some of it complaining about the cost. One mural at a Sao Paulo school by renowned street artist Paulo Ito has gone viral on social media, showing a weeping, starving Brazilian boy, knife and fork in hand, being served a soccer ball on a plate.

While adults debate World Cup politics, kids across the region are getting into the spirit by playing pick-up soccer games. They are inspired by the sporting heroes who will represent their countries, and many dream of one day scoring the goal that brings the world championship to their homeland.

Vendors in other countries are ready, too, such as one in Buenos Aires offering a variety of T-shirts showing Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi, alongside shirts for former soccer great Diego Maradona, who led Argentina to victory at the 1986 World Cup, and the late President Eva Peron.

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