Football player Joey Bartone poses in front of the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. Photo courtesy of NicolaBenn.
The World Cup this year embodies many hopes alongside just as many fears. On Thursday, at 4 p.m. local time, the Cup’s first game will begin at Sao Paulo’s Corinthians Arena, in a very tense atmosphere.
Mere hours before the highly-anticipated football tournament kicks off, Brazil is bubbling with anticipation, and not just because of sport. The days leading up to the competition have been fraught with problems. First, there was a police strike and a teacher’s strike, both of which were quelled in extremis just a few days ago. Strikes by subway personnel followed, causing horrendous traffic jams in the streets of Sao Paulo, the economic capital of Brazil. In Rio de Janeiro, bloody clashes broke out between policemen and drug traffickers in a supposedly “pacified” favela. And then there are the myriad anti-World Cup protests denouncing what demonstrators have deemed "exorbitant" spending on the event. Construction on several new stadiums was completed just hours ahead of the Cup start  – and they are reportedly still missing some seats.
It is in this context that roughly 600,000 foreign visitors are landing in Brazil.

“In Manaus, it’s really hot, but the atmosphere is increasingly festive”

The city of Manaus, smack in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, is one of the 12 World Cup host cities. Although strong rains caused the local airport’s roof to crumble in late May, the mood today seems to be festive. Rob (not his real name) is British. He arrived in Manaus on Tuesday.
I took a flight from England to Georgetown in Guyana. From there, I took a bus to the city of Manaus. The trip lasted 18 hours and everything went smoothly. It’s very hot [between 30 and 33 °C this week] and humid, but I already had the time to do a little jungle tour and to see gorgeous waterfalls.
Traffic is pretty bad, but the city seems ready. There are flags everywhere. The atmosphere is increasingly festive. On Saturday, I'm going to watch my first game at the stadium. In the meantime, I’m planning on taking a 7-hour boat trip on the Amazon.”
Decorations in the streets of Manaus. 
In Manaus, city authorities went so far as to give residents tips for dealing with tourists based on their nationality, which has led to strange advice. According to them, Croatians are known for their love of pizza “at all hours of the day or night”, whereas British people “cannot stand tardiness” and it is strongly advised not to speak of “war or terrorism” with Americans.

“In Rio, it feels like everything was prepared in haste"

Mohamed Ben Halim is a Libyan business student living in Paris. He arrived in Brazil on May 28.
My plans were somewhat upset because I was supposed to come with a friend who was unable to get a visa for Brazil in the end. So I’ll admit that at first, I was a little bored, but I’m starting to meet people.
In Rio, everything and everyone is frenzied. You can see workers everywhere in the streets or on construction sites. Moreover, for a country so infatuated with football, Brazil is falling short of the ambiance I was expecting. There are certainly some posters in the streets, but there’s less emphasis on football than I was anticipating. The Brazilians I’ve met are not very enthusiastic. Many think the authorities really don’t have the right priorities.
“Very few people speak English”
I don’t want to be negative because I’m having a good time, but I can’t help but notice that very few people speak English, even in stores. For instance, it took a ridiculous amount of time to be able to communicate which SIM card I wanted in a store selling mobile phones. They really need to get ready for a lot more visitors coming here, because there are the Olympic Games after the World Cup.
A beach in Rio.
From a security standpoint, we’ve been warned so much about Brazil that I was really on edge when I arrived. After several days here, though, I already feel far more at ease. Part of that is because there are policemen on every street corner.
I also spent two days in Sao Paulo. But the city was so backed up due to traffic jams that I wasn’t able to see much.

Sao Paulo and its traffic jams

Sao Paulo, the 11-million strong economic capital of Brazil, will be hosting the Brazil-Croatia game, the first game of the cup. But local residents have noticed that the tourist maps being handed out to visitors are not up-to-date.
Several stations listed as “under construction” were finished years ago, whereas some stations are  not listed on the map at all.
Photo published here.

“In Fortaleza, theft and murder is getting worse”

David Ollie is a Congolese national who arrived in Fortaleza, northern Brazil, eight months ago. As an art consultant, he went there for work and thought it would be fun to stay for the World Cup. He has since changed his mind...
I paid 200 euros for a ticket to attend a match on June 29 at the Castelao Stadium, but I don’t think I will go in the end. I am too worried about my security. The Brazil that we imagine and the Brazil that actually exists are worlds apart. I’m staying100 metres from the beach in a fairly upscale neighbourhood, but I never go to the beach because I’m scared of being attacked. Due to the recent police strikes, theft and murders are increasingly common. Every day, there’s a new story. Barely a week ago, I was sitting at a restaurant with a friend, and a man was shot right in front of me. Recently, several bus drivers were murdered, and strikes have been called. Traffic has become extremely hairy.
A beach in Fortaleza. Photo by David Ollie.
For all these reasons, going to the stadium just seems too risky, even if there are tons of police checkpoints. My Brazilian friends and I would rather stay at home in front of the TV. You can look out my window onto the street for 30 minutes, and you still won’t see anyone walking around. People are too afraid to walk alone outside.
I advise visitors to remain in the touristy areas. They need to be aware that people are dying like flies here. No good will come from venturing off the beaten path. And I’m not counting on the tourist police to help them, because they generally speak neither English nor French. Foreign tourists have no idea what they're up against here.
Surfers in Fortaleza. Photo by David Ollie.
Fortaleza, like Salvador and Recife, is among the Brazilian cities most notorious for armed robbery. Overall, Brazil’s economic growth has not caused a decrease in violence – much to the contrary. The massive budget allocated for security in anticipation of the World Cup – reportedly 617 million euros – is five times what South Africa spent for the 2010 World Cup.
According to the government, the World Cup should help increase Brazil’s growth by 0.4 percent per year until 2019. According to Embratur, the country’s official tourism agency, Brazilians are slated to spend an estimated 8.3 billion dollars during the World Cup, and foreign visitors an additional 3.1 billion. As for those Brazilians who can’t handle the World Cup frenzy, travel agencies have been offering discounted travel packages to leave Brazil during the competition.