Back World Cup, says Brazil president
Dilma Rousseff, the president of Brazil, has urged the country's public to support the World Cup after a string of protests against the staging of the tournament.
Demonstrations against the cost of the World Cup -- the most expensive and lucrative in history, with $11.5 billion having been spent by Brazil so far -- began when the country hosted the Confederations Cup last summer, and the protests have continued.
Many in Brazil feel the money would have been better spent addressing the country's problems with poverty, education, healthcare and transport -- but Rousseff, in her nationally televised speech, urged "pessimists" to back the tournament, which kicks off on Thursday.
"I'm certain that, in the 12 host cities, visitors are going to mix with a happy, generous and hospitable people and be impressed by a nation full of natural beauty and which fights each day to become more equal," the president said.
She also pledged to address concerns about potential corruption after some polls showed that three in four people believed it had tainted preparations for the tournament.
Earlier this year, the Associated Press reported that many construction firms had increased their campaign contributions to Rousseff's Workers Party since Brazil was chosen as the 2014 host nation.
Government audit reports also revealed huge cost overruns on the construction of stadia and facilities.
"Have no doubt, the accounts of the cup are being meticulously analysed by auditing agencies," Rousseff said. "If any irregularity exists, those responsible will receive the maximum punishment."
She hit out at claims that Brazil had lavished too much money on the World Cup, saying the government had spent more than 200 times what was invested in stadiums on education and healthcare since 2010.
And she rallied Brazil's players ahead of their opening match of the tournament against Croatia in Sao Paolo, saying: "Beneath those green and canary jerseys, you embody a powerful legacy of the Brazilian people.
"The national team represents nationality. It's above governments, parties and the interests of any group."