RIO DE JANEIRO —
The football World Cup begins Thursday with a match between Brazil and Croatia. But opening day has been marred by protests against the tournament.
Downtown at Rio de Janeiro’s famed Candelaria church, two members of the Black Bloc protest group going by the names Rocky and Nica say the government, instead of spending $11 billion on football should have focused on social services.
School teacher Valeria Mattos says Brazil’s education system has deteriorated in recent years.
"We demand improvement in our school system. We denounce the diversion of funds from education and culture that were meant for our work and our school materials," Mattos says.
Police in Sao Paulo used tear gas to disperse a similar demonstration by protestors. They say cronyism and corruption permeate Brazilian government.
In Rio a member of the Communist Party, Carlos Serrano, noted that many favelas and neighborhoods were destroyed for the World Cup. This shows that the Cup is against the people, not for the people, he says.
"This is absolutely absurd and it’s why we’re having this mobilization," Serrano explains. "We're going to continue until the end of the Cup and, in Rio de Janeiro, beyond the Cup until 2016 when we have the Olympics which is a replica of the same logic."
The number of demonstrators has declined as football fever grips the nation. But the activists say they will carry on until things change in Brazil.
Brazil vs Croatia
Brazil opens the World Cup playing Croatia. The host country is trying to win a record sixth World Cup title, and its first since 2002.
Other teams expected to challenge for the World Cup trophy include Argentina, defending champion Spain, and Germany, which has to first make it through the so-called "Group of Death."
The tournament is played in two stages. The first lasts two weeks, with four teams in each of eight groups playing games against one another. The top two teams in each group then move on to a single-elimination bracket, with a champion being crowned on July 13.
Germany, currently ranked second in the world by World Cup organizer FIFA, is in a group with fourth-ranked Portugal, the United States and Ghana, all of which made it to the round of 16 at the last World Cup in 2010.
Another tough group to watch is the only other to feature more than one top-10 team. It pits seventh-ranked Uruguay against ninth-ranked Italy, 10th-ranked England and number 28 Costa Rica.
For more on World Cup 2014, check out our special site