SAO PAULO (AP) — It's almost time. The day Brazilians have been anxiously waiting for is finally arriving.
Brazil plays Croatia on Thursday to get the home World Cup underway, beginning its quest for a sixth world title almost seven years after the nation was picked as host.
After so much talk about delays, protests and problems, fans at last are getting a chance to cheer for the national team on home soil in football's showcase tournament.
If Brazil wins the opening game, the fact that the stadium in Sao Paulo isn't even fully finished yet will quickly be forgotten. A loss, quite simply, is unthinkable for a nation whose identity is so closely linked to its football team.
Brazil hasn't hosted the World Cup since 1950, when it endured a heartbreaking loss to Uruguay in the last title-deciding game. This time, everybody knows that only the title will be enough to please the home crowd.
"We are all eager to get started, we are just counting the days," Brazil midfielder Ramires said Tuesday. "We know that the fans have confidence in our team and they are behind us. We have to do everything possible to try to win this World Cup. We know everybody is expecting us to do it."
Boosted by the home crowd, Brazil is one of the main favorites to recapture the trophy won by Spain four years ago in South Africa. But the other usual World Cup contenders will be trying to spoil the party in the land of football, including Germany, Italy, Argentina and the Netherlands, runner-up in 2010.
Brazil is trying to become the first nation to win the World Cup at home since France did it in 1998. The Brazilians were eliminated in the quarterfinals of the last two tournaments, to France in 2006 and the Netherlands in 2010.
A festive World Cup atmosphere has taken over Brazil in the run-up to the tournament despite the country's preparation problems and the threats of protests. Brazilians had been slow to get into the World Cup mood, but now streets are being painted with the green and yellow colors and local flags are being displayed on windows of homes across the country.
The crowd support is one of the biggest reasons coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has been saying loud and clear that Brazil is obligated to win the World Cup at home. Players also don't hide that they believe Brazil is the main title favorite.