BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (AP) — At a local bar long before noon, a German supporter danced along with Brazilians playing samba.
By the time Tuesday's World Cup semifinal match between five-time champion Brazil and three-time titlist Germany kicked off, masses of revelers were out on the streets in big cities across the country.
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."
In Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city, people began leaving work right at noon, many already wearing the canary jersey.
Motorists blasted car horns as they headed to packed sports bars in the city center, and thousands flocked to the city's bohemian neighborhood of Vila Madalena, where police banned traffic for 10 square blocks, allowing pedestrians to take over what has become a beer-fueled football festival.
Some in Vila Madalena were playing football in one of the streets that was carpeted by yellow, green and blue — the colors of the Brazilian flag — with many foreigners joining Brazil fans, too, in wearing the nation's colors.
"It's exciting and scary," said Alan Ferreira, a 41-year-old publicist decked out in a yellow track suit and carrying a replica of the World Cup trophy in one hand and a megaphone in the other. "Every Brazilian is feeling this strong desire to win."
At the Mineirao Stadium, people wore Neymar masks to honor the 22-year-old star and fans of both teams were mingling.
"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."
AP Sports Writer Chris Lehourites in Belo Horizonte and Associated Press writer Adriana Gomez Licon in in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.
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