— RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — It's a tale of the two World Cups — one on a field and one playing out on this country's streets.
As Brazilians raise the curtain this week on what's arguably the world's most popular sporting event, the country's fervent love of soccer is butting up against public anger over charges of wasteful spending, corruption, traffic jams, strikes and a litany of other complaints.
After enduring a year of anti-government protests that tied up roads and strikes that paralyzed public transport, schools, and other services, many exhausted Brazilians finally are preparing to cheer on their beloved team, though in what may be the flattest pre-Cup climate they've yet seen.
On a dark, rain-soaked street in Rio's Copacabana neighborhood, Francisco Nascimento climbed a rickety wooden ladder to hang plastic streamers in the colors of Brazil's national flag. With only a few days to go before the Cup's opening match, Nascimento was running out of time to repeat the ritual he's completed for every World Cup since 1982.
"I started putting the decorations up really late this year, I can't say why. Normally I would have done this a month earlier," Nascimento said. "Still, I feel a responsibility to show the world our pride, even if it's just these little streamers.
"Brazil's struggles, our frustration with politicians, have dampened excitement, and that anger won't go away. But I don't know anybody who isn't praying for our team to show its grit, to show our swagger, and win this Cup."
Anticipation is building over the tournaments' expected drama: Will boy wonder Neymar help Brazil avenge its haunting 1950 Cup loss in Maracana? Will Lionel Messi finally lead Argentina to glory on its archrival's home turf? Or will an underdog team emerge to captivate the world's imagination?