“The time has arrived”, Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari roared last night as his team made their final preparations before taking on Croatia in the eagerly anticipated opening match of the World Cup.
Seven years after Fifa president Sepp Blatter announced football would come to its spiritual home for the first time since 1950, the world’s attention finally turns to Sao Paolo tonight with a carnival atmosphere expected at the sold out 60,000-seater Arena Corinthians.
Anti-government protests, strikes by public transport workers, floods and delays to infrastructure upgrades have threatened to undermine Brazil’s staging of the greatest show on Earth.
But Scolari believes the quest to win a record sixth Jules Rimet trophy will reunite the country and backs his players to deliver.
“To all Brazilians I want to tell you the time has arrived. We are going together, this is our World Cup,” said the former Chelsea boss.
“There are seven steps. The first step is against Croatia. After that we have six steps that we want to go up if we want to win the World Cup.”
Despite concerns over forward Neymar, 22, who injured his ankle in training this week, the Barcelona star has been passed fit to start.
Croatia were last night hopeful Fifa would approve Milan Badelj’s call-up to replace injured midfielder Ivan Mocinic. The 21-year-old is the fourth player to drop out of the Croatia squad due to injury.
Striker Mario Mandzukic is suspended, so Hull’s Nikica Jelavic stands by.
No host nation as ever lost their opening World Cup match, but Croatia are unbeaten since Niko Kovac took charge last October, with three wins in five games.
Brazil v Croatia. ITV1. Tonight 9pm