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World Cup Day 1: Neymar, spoilers, upsets and more

SAO PAULO (AP) - The problem-plagued preparations have been well chronicled, with critics condemning the range of issues from budget blowouts to construction delays.

Organizers need Brazil to kick off the tournament with a win over Croatia on Thursday to shift the focus back to what the host nation really cares about: winning a sixth World Cup. Brazil hasn't hosted the tournament since 1950, when it lost to Uruguay in the title match, and that only adds to local expectations.

"We have to do everything possible to win this World Cup," Brazil midfielder Ramires said. "We know everybody is expecting us to do it."

With that in mind, let the games begin.

Here are some things to look for Thursday:

NEYMAR'S MOMENT: Carrying the hopes of a nation is something that gives the 22-year-old Brazil striker goose bumps.

"The time everybody has been waiting for has arrived," said Neymar, who will direct the attack for a team that is aiming to "fulfill the dream of every Brazilian by winning the title."

The Barcelona forward has scored 31 goals in 49 matches for Brazil, but he says it's not a one-man show.

"I don't play by myself," Neymar said. "There are 11 players on the field, and everybody knows their role and what they need to do to try to help our team make it far in the tournament."

SPOILERS: Croatia will shock the host nation and the world if they come away with even a draw, particularly without Bayern Munich forward Mario Mandzukic, who was suspended following a red card in a playoff to qualify.

Croatia, which surprisingly finished third in 1998, features Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric and Sevilla captain Ivan Rakitic, who is moving to Barcelona and will be Neymar's teammate.

Croatia coach Niko Kovac said his team can deliver a "historic result" in Sao Paulo.

EDGE OF THEIR SEATS: With hundreds of millions of people watching on TV, organizers at Itaquerao stadium have extra cause to be edgy about preparations.

The Sao Paulo venue is set to hold a capacity crowd for the first time in the opening match of the World Cup.

The 61,600 spectators will certainly test the facility and put a strain on safety plans and equipment, which was still receiving finishing touches Wednesday after chronic delays, worker deaths and other problems during construction.

Just two matches - and none with more than 37,000 fans - were held at the Itaquerao to test its readiness.

Itaquerao Stadium, Sao Paulo, Brazil

WE ARE ONE: J.Lo is likely to perform at the World Cup after all. Jennifer Lopez told The Associated Press earlier this week that she would be flying to Brazil in time to perform during Thursday's opening ceremony.

"We always were going," she said. "I think people get anxious, especially with me and my schedule ... but we are definitely going."

FIFA officials had announced earlier this week that the singer wouldn't perform the official tune "We Are One (Ole Ola)" alongside Pitbull and Claudia Leitte.

Jennifer Lopez

UPSET WATCH: Brazil has won 15 of its last 16 games and heads into the World Cup as a favorite to win the title, but Luiz Felipe Scolari's squad is aware that there's no easy opener at the sport's marquee event.

The World Cup has produced its share of shockers on opening day. Until 2006, the first game usually involved the defending champion, not the host. Two of the biggest: Cameroon upset defending champion Argentina 1-0 in 1990, and defending champion France lost 1-0 to Senegal in 2002.
Sao Paulo prepares for the 2014 FIFA World Cup
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Join the discussion

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pty014372 June 12 2014 at 7:53 AM

Soccer is awful. The World Cup is a waste of time and money, much like the Olympics.

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14 replies
bdgrizcp June 12 2014 at 7:52 AM

Completely meaningless display of sheer boredom. Soccer may be the international sport of everyone, but it will never amount to much here. Too boring. 180 plus minutes of swarthy guys running willy-nilly up and down, a sport where a single point scored can be called a rout. David beckham (and anyone dumb enough to fund his latest scam) will find out something about soccer in America: the people in the US who truly go nutsy fagan over the sport have no disposable income to spend on it, which explains why Miami currently does not have a team--it used to, but it folded in 2003 (and became a minor league franchise).

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13 replies
hartford14225 June 12 2014 at 8:48 AM

Month long event the world has been waiting for.....um I don't think so

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2 replies
martha hartford14225 June 12 2014 at 9:42 AM

You are not the world, kid, The real world has been waiting for this momento. And this is really a WORLD CUP, Teams from all over the world are involved, not only the USA.

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2 replies
Ban Liberal Dementia martha June 12 2014 at 12:22 PM

It's a snoozefest at best... and less exciting than watching paint dry... and a "game" takes longer than most paints take to dry on a humid day!

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jechandle martha June 12 2014 at 7:15 PM

Yeah, and after all that hoolah, they mucked up the first match.
I turned it off after Croatia's second goal was disallowed.
The entire tournament is tainted, and there's only been one match. Pretty sad.

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eltrip hartford14225 June 12 2014 at 12:51 PM

Maybe not in your little world.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
Hollow318 June 12 2014 at 9:30 AM

Squatters, former renters, are living in tents, taxes to pay for the venues, clean water, food not to be found for the citizens, all for a game. I think the country has their priorities mixed up. It's all about the love of money for the politicians running the game. More money off the backs of the poor. Nothing new here. Sad, disgusting times.

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Ban Liberal Dementia June 12 2014 at 12:20 PM

Yawn!!!!! Soccer is such a snoozefest.... all the excitement of watching paint dry without the aroma!

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1 reply
obiwan49 Ban Liberal Dementia June 12 2014 at 1:40 PM

Your problem is you must be intelligent to understand soccer. People that need books with pretty pictures in them prefer to watch NFL.

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halt1025 June 12 2014 at 7:11 AM


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1 reply
stevenjonessales halt1025 June 12 2014 at 1:22 PM


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bigred8690 June 12 2014 at 8:24 AM

I hated watching soccer until a Nigerian told me, "Don't focus on the score. Focus on who is dominating the game." In soccer, it's painfully obvious who is better from having control of the ball. The moment when someone scores is more "special" because it doesn't happen so often; and at that moment, the elation is so much more palpable. "Own goals" where you accidentally score against yourself (typically because the ball bounced off of you into your own net) is a funny event that doesn't occur in U.S. sports.

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3 replies
Kenny P June 12 2014 at 2:06 PM

And may the odds ever be in your favor.

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kanga573 June 12 2014 at 1:53 PM

Think I'll go watch the toddlers play this at the park. They're less likely to be shot by angry fans later.

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eltrip June 12 2014 at 12:36 PM

Soccer is a great sport. FIFA stinks....

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