DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Ahead of the World Cup, the host country, Brazil, has seen labor strikes, protests, construction delays at stadiums, but tomorrow the games begin. Brazilians hope they can put all the problems behind them. They just want to get the party started. It sounds like it already has if you listen to NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: So I'm in Sao Paulo, and if you want to come and find World Cup fever in this massive city of 20 million people, then there's nowhere better than the street of Aspicuelta, which is in the heart of the very trendy neighborhood of Vila Madalena. It's basically bar, after bar, after bar, and indeed, fans are not hard to come by.
NIKOLAI FAMULO: Very excited - can't wait to start the kickoff, yeah.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Nikolai Famulo from Croatia. He's here with a group of friends at one of these bars having fun, waiting eagerly for the opening game of the World Cup when Brazil will face-off against Croatia. Needless to say, Croatia are not the favorites.
FAMULO: We will win.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughing) Everyone says that.
Another group who are not expected to move out of group play is the United States. Even the coach, Jurgen Klinsman, has said the Americans won't win. But Jason Sullivan, a 27-year-old property manager from Baltimore, Maryland, who is sitting at a different bar down the road, refuses to accept defeat.
JASON SULLIVAN: Yeah it's going to be a tough group for sure, but I have hope. I have faith.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: With him is 26-year-old Brandon Peck who is an actuary from New York City. He acknowledges that the US is in the so-called, group of death, with many difficult games against soccer powerhouses - among them, Portugal. And his wish -
BRANDON PECK: It's really - we just hope Cristiano Ronaldo doesn't play.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But the fans that are most prevalent are those from the region - Chileans, Argentinians, Ecuadorians, Colombians. One fan from Mexico even came here by bike. Others have driven motor homes and joined a caravan across the Andes. Many don't have tickets, and they're just here to soak up the atmosphere. At Sao Paulo's football museum, we run across a group of young Colombians from Medellin. Daniel Lopez is 21.
DANIEL LOPEZ: (Spanish spoken).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says, this is the first time in a long time we Latin Americans are so close to a World Cup, and there are people here from all over the region, so you have this Latin flavor.
Many of the fans have complained about traffic. Others have noted for a country about to host the world's biggest soccer tournament, there isn't exactly a festive air. But at least for now, in the run-up to the games, they say they haven't had to deal with much of the unrest. That may soon change. Protests are being planned for the opening match and beyond.
In Sao Paulo on Tuesday evening, a small group of demonstrators vowed that they would continue to speak out against the tournament, which they say has happened at the expense of vulnerable Brazilians. A particular target of their ire is FIFA, soccer's world-governing body. Danilo Cajazera is an organizer.
DANILO CAJAZERA: FIFA didn't pay one cent of tax to us. This model of World Cup is no good anymore. This World Cup violates so many human rights, and we don't like it. We don't like this way of doing things.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: He points to the many forcible evictions that have taken place, and the fact that most Brazilians can't afford to buy tickets to the games as evidence of how FIFA has ruined soccer for many Brazilians.
CAJAZERA: What was really a surprise that you - two days for the World Cup and the city is not all yellow and green with flags and shirts and the streets painted. This is surprise - is a surprise even to me. So I think this shows how violent the process is.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Cajazera says they will be out on the streets protesting for the rest of the games. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Sao Paulo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.