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Friday July 4, 2014 MYT 7:27:02 AM
Friday July 4, 2014 MYT 7:28:02 AM
by mike collett-white
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - At least one person died on Thursday when an unfinished overpass collapsed in World Cup host city Belo Horizonte, overshadowing the buildup to the first quarter-finals in which France face Germany and Brazil take on Colombia.
Nineteen people were also injured in the accident about two miles (3 km) from the Mineirao Stadium where World Cup games are being played and a semi-final is due to be held on Tuesday.
The cause of the collapse, which underlined Brazil's struggle to deliver infrastructure projects safely and on time, was unclear. The overpass was part of a network of bus lanes that Brazil planned to have ready for the World Cup, but was not finished on time.
Groups of people gathered around the scene of the accident, some shouting furiously.
"Because of the World Cup they sped everything up to finish faster," said Leandro Brito, 23, a bank worker. "That's why this tragedy has happened. They are not making things properly. Everyone is very angry."
Delays in construction projects and $11 billion in public spending to stage the world's largest sporting event spurred violent protests across Brazil over the last year, but they have fizzled out as the tournament has progressed.
In fact, with the World Cup generally running smoothly and people transfixed by scintillating football, a poll published late on Wednesday showed President Dilma Rousseff's popularity had increased as she prepares to seek re-election in October.
Support for the leftist president has risen to 38 percent from 34 percent a month ago, the survey of eligible voters by Brazilian polling firm Datafolha said.
It also showed that people in Brazil were more positive about the economy and many more now favoured hosting the World Cup, although whether that optimism continues should Brazil fail to win the trophy remains to be seen.
The host nation play Colombia in Fortaleza in Friday's afternoon kick-off and, with the weight of expectation upon them, there are concerns about whether a team that have failed to sparkle so far can cope with the pressure.
Those fears grew this week when news surfaced that a psychologist went to visit the squad at their training ground, but coach Luiz Felipe Scolari responded angrily to questions about Brazil's emotional fragility.
"For God's sake, please stop thinking that so and so goes there only for specific reasons. That's all wrong," Scolari told a news conference, cutting off the reporter asking the question.
"It's all scheduled, organised. She will go there again Sunday or Monday. She has participated in a very cool way," he added. "It's a broad conversation, open, calm, together with the players."
The sight of players breaking down in tears after their nerve-jangling win on penalties against Chile in the last game has not instilled confidence in Brazil's soccer-mad public, but news that the talented forward Neymar is fit certainly helps.
The striker said he had no lingering pain from the knee and thigh injuries he suffered in the bruising encounter with Chile.
Colombia may not have the footballing pedigree of their opponents, but their free-flowing style and carefree attitude has made them many people's favourites to overcome the hosts.
In James Rodriguez, their 22-year-old attacking midfielder, they have arguably the tournament's best player so far who has scored five goals, one more than Neymar, Argentina's Lionel Messi and Germany's Thomas Mueller.
"James-mania" is sweeping Colombia, and is especially evident in the city of Ibague, where he first made waves as a precocious talent.
"He's our idol, our pride," said Eliceo Osorio, a 50-year-old judge standing outside Ibague's city hall, draped with a banner featuring a jubilant Rodriguez.
"We always believed he was better than Falcao," Osorio said, swelling with pride, referring to Colombia's leading striker Radamel Falcao, forced out of the World Cup due to injury.
Friday's other quarter-final is an all-European affair, pitting football grandees France and Germany against each other in the early kick-off at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
Germany have the advantage in terms of consistency and history on the biggest football stage of all, but "Les Bleus" cruised through the group phase and then beat Nigeria 2-0, while their opponents found it far tougher to reach the last eight.
France coach Didier Deschamps conceded that, on one level at least, Germany had the advantage.
"Germany is very accustomed to this competition," he told reporters. "Experience is more on their side, but we will play our game."
Germany do have the added worry of seven players suffering from flu, although coach Joachim Loew said he expected all of them to be available to play.
"Some of them still have a bit of a cold, but it hasn't been the case that they have had any feeling of tiredness," he told reporters. "I hope they all remain stable until tomorrow and that overnight we don't see any deterioration."
Midfielder Toni Kroos said he was confident Germany would produce their best against France when it mattered.
"Of course France is a top nation and we know what to expect, great players who until now have been playing well as a team," he said.
"I think we have a good chance of winning because in my eyes, (these matches) are often decided in the midfield and who dominates those duels ... We know we are good there but if we all produce our performance then we will be the better team."
(Editing by Ken Ferris)
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