BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil : At a local bar long before noon, a German supporter danced along with Brazilians playing samba.Tension will mount, no doubt, before the 5 p.m. kickoff (4 p.m. EDT/2000 GMT) in Tuesday's World Cup semifinal match between five-time champion Brazil and three-time titlist Germany.
The host nation has spent billions of dollars preparing for the tournament, with expectations that home advantage could deliver Brazil a sixth title. But with star striker Neymar out injured and captain Thiago Silva suspended for the semifinals, Brazilians are suddenly very nervous. Neymar will be among those anxiously watching the match from home, where he is recovering from the fractured vertebra that ruled him out of the tournament. He's urging the nation to get behind the team and help push Brazil into Sunday's final.
"I'll be among the 200 million fans and I know how important this support is to the guys on the field," Neymar said in a message published through one of his social media accounts. "Let's cheer together until the last minute because I really want to be with everyone else, the fans and my teammates, on the field at the Maracana next Sunday."Fans were already heading out to popular fan fests like those at Copacabana and in Sao Paulo, with most focused on the events that will unfold in Belo Horizonte in the evening.
At the Mineirao Stadium, people wore Neymar masks to honor the 22-year-old star. Streets were filling with fans walking with Brazilian shirts and flags. Groups of Germany fans also could be seen around Belo Horizonte. "We heard so many bad things about Brazil before we came, but it's been an incredible experience so far," said 29-year-old Michael Beussemer, who has been in the country for more than two weeks following Germany at the World Cup. "The fan atmosphere has been great, we can't complain about anything. Everyone is hyped up for this match, it's just great to be able to be here."
Brazilians from all over the country were turning up early, soaking up the atmosphere and the beverages. "We are addicted," said Ricardo Lima, a 31-year-old lawyer from Sao Paulo who arrived in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday morning with about a dozen of his friends. "We do this for every match we go to."
Lima had it tough, though. Wearing a yellow national team shirt, the bearded Brazilian was walking with a crutch after breaking his right ankle while singing and dancing following his country's match against Mexico. "For the game against Cameroon, my friends had to carry me," Lima said. "But it's all good. It's like paradise now."
Near the Savassi neighborhood, a regular gathering spot during World Cup matches, supporters from both nations mingled. Some Brazilian fans honked horns as they came across each other, some chanted together.Business owners were celebrating well before kickoff.
"We opened a lot earlier because of the game, we know fans are already looking for places to start getting ready for the match," said Leandro Nunes, who oversees a restaurant near a spot popular with fans in Belo Horizonte. "It's been exceptional so far. Since the World Cup started, we have been breaking sales record after sales record."
The Brazil-Germany match is the last of the six World Cup matches held at the Mineirao Stadium. And some locals wouldn't dream of missing out on the fun.
"I came here with the bus, seven hours from Sao Paulo," said Caio Anjos, a 31-year-old sales coordinator sipping beer from a plastic cup. "We arrived at 7 this morning. I changed clothes at the bus station and came right here."
It is the first time Brazil is playing Germany since the 2002 World Cup final in South Korea and Japan, when Brazil won its fifth world title. "We'll take our revenge this time," said Damian Reis, a 23-year-old student from Wolfsburg who was at the stadium with his father. "It's going to be a tough game, though."