RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- The Confederations Cup begins on Saturday in the shadow of violent protests in two of Brazil's biggest cities, with builders still slapping cement on stadiums.
The eight-nation tournament, seen as a test of Brazil's ability to organize mega sports events a year before the World Cup, starts on Saturday in the capital Brasilia with a game between the host and Asian champion Japan. It ends in Rio de Janeiro's Maracana Stadium two weeks later.
The tournament is held every four years - always one year before the World Cup - between the champions of each football confederation.
Workmen were still applying cement onto walks, attaching glass panels and painting at several stadiums as the clock ticked down to kick-off, but FIFA President Sepp Blatter said he was not worried about the last-minute preparations.
"There's a lot of work that will be done in the last minute," he said. "So for me it is not a surprise that two days to go there is still work somewhere. It means that something is not finished so we should just say, okay, and finish it."
While the paint and cement dry, tournament officials have been keeping an eye on the street protests, handling team complaints, and hoping Nigeria turn up on time.
Thousands of protesters marched in Rio and Sao Paulo on Thursday to rage against increases in bus and subway fares, and some clashed with police.
Officials said roughly 5,000 protesters were in Sao Paulo's central area, where they clashed with police who fired tear gas to try to disperse the crowd. Police said 40 people were detained, some with knives and gasoline bombs.
Police in Rio said about 2,000 people protested there.
In Rio, Italy reportedly complained it was not advised in advance that Joao Havelange Stadium, known as the Engenhao, was closed because of a faulty roof, forcing it to find an alternative practice venue.
In Recife, Uruguay was forced to go looking for a new practice pitch because the stadium chosen by the squad was not in good condition following heavy rains.
"For the World Cup, we have to be on alert so the same mistakes don't happen again, especially the delays, the increased costs and the use of public funds," congressman and former Brazil striker Romario said.
Latin America is represented here by Brazil, Uruguay and Mexico, Europe by Spain and Italy, Africa by Nigeria, Asia by Japan and the tiny footballing nation of Tahiti, which had an easy passage to the tournament against weak opposition in the Oceania group.
Nigeria gave world football authority FIFA a shock on Thursday when its players threatened to go on strike and not travel to Brazil because the country's football association suddenly cut players' bonus payments.
Nigeria's players, in Namibia for a game, missed their connection to Brazil and will arrive only on Saturday or Sunday, leaving them very little time to prepare for their first game on Monday. Their first game is against the part-time players of Tahiti, who should present little threat.
The competition is split into two groups, with Brazil, Japan, Mexico and Italy in Group A and Spain, Uruguay, Nigeria and Tahiti in Group B.
Brazil, Italy, Spain and Uruguay or Nigeria are favoured to reach the semifinals, with many football fans hoping for a Brazil vs.Spain final at the iconic Maracana on June 30.
Brazil has dominated global football for years, but has slipped in the last decade, with Spain rising to become the top global team, holding the world and European titles.
Brazil's football-mad supporters have been embarrassed to be relegated to 22nd in FIFA's latest rankings, sandwiched between Ghana and Mali, and are looking for salvation from the latest goal-scoring sensation Neymar, who signed for Barcelona last month.
Neymar will be wearing the No. 10 shirt for Brazil, a weighty burden considering it was worn by Pele, arguably the best player ever.
On Sunday, Mexico play Italy in Rio and Spain play Uruguay in the rain-soaked northern city of Recife. Tahiti meets Nigeria in Belo Horizonte on Monday, ending the first round of games.
Brazil, a rising global economic power which still suffers from some of the headaches of a developing nation, should be able to handle the Confederations Cup with ease because it faces two massive challenges over the next three years.
Next year it hosts the World Cup in 12 cities across a country which is similar in size to Europe, and then in 2016 Rio will host the Olympic Games.