By Andrew Downie
SAO PAULO, Nov 27 (Reuters) - With six months to go before the World Cup kicks off, the stadiums are almost ready, the 32 qualifiers are booking their flights and the tickets are selling faster than ever.
The dream of every football fan - a World Cup in the spiritual home of the beautiful game - is about to come true.
But while supporters all over the world eagerly await the prospect, many Brazilians are a little less enthusiastic.
They see next year's tournament as a missed opportunity with the promised infrastructure either not being built or thrown up late and over budget.
"I think the matches broadcast to the world will be a great show and there will be no problems," said Marcelo Proni, an academic at the University of Campinas who studies preparations for major sporting events.
"But the public money being spent on readying the country could be better spent elsewhere. Brazilians will be delighted to host the World Cup but that will be because of the party, not because money is being spent wisely."
Brazil was awarded the right to host the finals in 2007 but there was a delay of almost two years before a decision was made on which cities would host the 64 games and then a higher-than-usual 12 were selected.
The country's sports minister said the 12 venues would be built "without a cent of public money" and the president vowed Brazil would seize the opportunity to build and modernise roads, airports, bus lanes, metros, hotels and communications systems which are vital to keep the developing nation growing.
However, those promises have not been kept.
Although stadiums are being built largely with private money - six were delivered for the Confederations Cup warm-up event in June and another six have been promised by the end of December - much of the cash has come from government banks who lend to construction companies at low interest with big tax breaks.
At least two of the stadiums, in Manaus and Cuiaba, could be delivered late and a third, while in Sao Paulo almost 20,000 temporary seats won't be erected until at least February.
The government's Federal Audits Court said at least four of the stadiums will be white elephants when the tournament ends. Five of the host cities will not have a first division football team playing at their grounds.
Five cities have cut back or abandoned plans to build bus lanes, trams or metros.
"The big increase in infrastructure investment hasn't happened," said economist Ricardo Amorim.
One major concern is whether public unrest will boil over during the month-long World Cup, he added.
The biggest popular protests in two decades erupted during June's Confederations Cup as millions of Brazilians took to the streets to protest rises in bus fares.
Demonstrators soon took aim at the huge spending on World Cup stadiums and asked why similar investments were not happening in health and education.
As the warm-up tournament went on, it became a focal point for protesters, with thousands marching on stadiums only to be driven back by riot police using dogs, tear gas and percussion grenades.
Although the mass protests have faded away, authorities are preparing for more trouble and have said they will ensure matches are not affected.
"There may be demonstrations but the dynamics of the World Cup will not be hindered by the Brazilian people's exercise of their right to peaceful demonstration," said Flavio Dino, president of tourism board Embratur.
In spite of all these problems, there are good reasons to believe the tournament will be a success from a footballing standpoint.
Brazilians are friendly and will welcome visitors.
An estimated 600,000 foreigners are expected to come for the tournament and they will have more to see than just football. Brazil has beautiful beaches, world famous music, amazing cuisine and nightlife and, of course, the Amazon rainforest.
Demand for tickets has been higher than ever before, with all 1.1 million put on sale during the first two purchase windows snapped up by eager fans.
"As expected, the level of interest was impressive," said FIFA's marketing director Thierry Weil. "This clearly shows the huge appeal of attending the FIFA World Cup live in Brazil."
FIFA also points to the success of the Confederations Cup as an encouraging bellwether.
Over 800,000 tickets were sold for that tournament - about 89 percent of the total - and TV viewing figures broke records not just in Brazil but in nations like Spain and Italy.
Perhaps most importantly, Brazil played their best football in years to establish themselves as one of the favourites to win the World Cup alongside Spain, Argentina and Germany.
Few people believe the finals will pass off with Swiss-like precision but if Brazil lift the famous trophy on July 13 at the Maracana for their sixth World Cup that will not matter a jot. (Editing by Rex Gowar)
- Sports & Recreation