SAO PAULO, Brazil – It is almost time. The day Brazilians have been eagerly awaiting is finally arriving.

Brazil plays Croatia on Thursday to get the home World Cup under way, beginning its quest for a sixth world title almost seven years after the nation was picked to host the 32-team event.

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 soccer’s showcase tournament.

If Brazil wins the opening match, the fact the stadium in Sao Paulo isn’t fully finished will likely be forgotten. A loss, quite simply, is unthinkable for a nation whose identity is so closely linked to its team.

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“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.”

Brazil, which enters the World Cup with victories in 15 of its last 16 matches, is trying to become the first nation to capture the title at home since France did it in 1998.

Blatter is denounced

On a tough day in his 16-year FIFA presidency, Sepp Blatter found time to shimmy on stage with a Brazilian model.

Blatter’s steps with Fernanda Lima suggested he was carefree.

Yet hours earlier Blatter was subjected to a ferocious attack on his record by European soccer leaders. Senior UEFA officials lined up to openly denounce his running of the scandal-hit governing body after urging him during a closed-door meeting not to seek re-election in 2015.

“People link FIFA to corruption and bribery and all kinds of old boys’ networks,” said Michael van Praag of the Netherlands, revealing he had told Blatter “people tend not to take you very seriously anymore.”

Europe’s collective anger was perhaps fueled by knowing Blatter was already backed by five of the six confederations at FIFA’s annual congress. UEFA comprises around one-quarter of FIFA votes and European support has not been decisive in a presidential poll since the 1960s.

UEFA officials reminded Blatter he promised them in March 2011 his current four-year term would be his last. Blatter, a 78-year-old Swiss, told them Tuesday he changed his mind.


• After much-publicized injuries to his left knee and thigh that kept him sidelined since May 24, Portugal superstar Cristiano Ronaldo played 65 minutes in a 5-1 exhibition victory over Ireland before a crowd of 46,063 in East Rutherford, N.J.

“I think he had a good match,” coach Paulo Bento said.