...But Brazil in no mood to party

...But Brazil in no mood to party

After inviting the world to its party and spending billions of dollars to put on a show, Brazil suddenly seems reluctant to dance.

The month-long World Cup soccer tournament kicks off on Thursday in what many people see as the sport's spiritual home, but the mood on the streets is subdued.

Delays in building and updating World Cup stadiums, airports and other infrastructure combined with anger over the $11.3 billion price tag have fueled protests that erupted in violence last year and dampened the enthusiasm of even die-hard fans.

Mounting allegations of corruption inside world soccer body FIFA have done nothing to help.

Brazilians say they will find their trademark exuberance once the goals start rolling in. For now, though, many of the international soccer fans descending on a country renowned for its Carnival celebrations, samba and soccer are disappointed.

"It's very hard to find things that are for us, the fans," said Vedran Lesic, part of a group of Croatian fans decked out in their national team's red and white as they walked through Sao Paulo on Wednesday. "We just want to have some fun and we are trying hard to find it."

The most festive visitors have resorted to making their own fun, carrying their national flags around the city, drinking in the streets and singing together as amused locals look on.

Otherwise the atmosphere is flat in Sao Paulo, the country's buttoned-down business center, which hosts the opening match between Brazil and Croatia on Thursday.

An expected explosion of Brazil's green and yellow has been slow to materialize and graffiti attacking FIFA and Brazilian politicians highlights the anger over poor public services.

"It's depressing. It's like people don't have the enthusiasm they had in other years, especially for a country that has football in its soul," said Cecilia Salazar, a 64-year-old shopkeeper from Argentina who was in Sao Paulo with her husband and has tickets to see their national team play in Porto Alegre.

Poor organization caused huge delays in some of the key World Cup investment projects and workers in a dozen host cities are racing against the clock to have stadiums, airport terminals and access roads ready on time.

Some projects, such as a bullet train between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, never left the drawing board.

Others are only partially completed or have been put on ice until after the World Cup.

"This is amazing. They've had years to get ready, but we've flown into a work-site," laughed Colombian businessman Manuel Pereira, 35, as he landed at Belo Horizonte airport, where metal bars and wires stuck out of walls and orange-suited workmen wandered round the concourse doing an array of last-minute jobs.

"Let's hope the Brazil team is as badly-prepared as this, then maybe Colombia can win the tournament!"

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