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Time For Kickoff: World's Attention Focused On World Cup

The world's most popular sporting events kicks off today in Sao Paulo when hosts Brazil takes on Croatia in the opening game at 5 p.m. local time. But much of the attention ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup has focused on whether the hosts can pull of a successful tournament, the run-up to which has been plagued by strikes, controversies and unrest.

First, the good news: Transit workers in Sao Paulo voted against resuming their strike for higher wages. But those opposed to the World Cup are holding protests in the city and across the country. And, finishing touches to the stadium in Sao Paulo were under way as recently as Wednesday night.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is reporting on the strikes for our Newscast unit. Here's what she says:

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"They waited until the last minute — but the metro workers union has said it will be business as usual on the subway in Brazil's biggest city for the opening game of the World Cup. Most of the fans getting to the world cup opener are arriving by metro — and Brazil's government had been hoping to avoid a shutdown. A five-day subway strike last week caused traffic chaos and left fans stuck in miles long traffic jams. Still, while the labor action has been averted protests are underway across the country. Demonstrators say they are upset over the cost of the tournament which has been at the expense they say of investment in health and education."

Those arriving in Rio de Janeiro for the tournament won't be as lucky: Airport workers there have declared a 24-hour strike.

But as NPR's Russell Lewis reports from Sao Paulo, many fans are ready for the games to start. He tells our Newscast unit that hundreds of people crowded outside the stadium to celebrate on Wednesday.

"Blowing horns, donning team jerseys and wearing wildly colorful hats – fans from many of the 32 countries playing in the World Cup were everywhere," he says. "Security was tight. Police were milling around as protective barriers were installed along the stadium's roads. Military and police helicopters circled overhead keeping an eye on the final preparations leading up to the opener as Brazil takes on Croatia."

And, as NPR's Tom Goldman tells Morning Edition, "History is on Brazil's side. No host nation has ever lost its first match in a World Cup."

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The U.S. plays its first game on Monday. It takes on Ghana.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/

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