RIO DE JANEIRO - The moment you leave the confines of Galeao Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport in Rio, your head spins as if it's mounted on a swivel.
At 6 a.m. the airport is quiet. Yet, surprisingly, there is very little that tells a visitor that in three days the World Cup will begin in the fifth largest country on earth.
Walking outside, the serenity of the airport is immediately shattered by the cacophony of car horns, pleading porters and taxi cab drivers.
And then you are off for one of the rides of your life. It's a little Indianapolis 500, motocross and bumper cars.
Motorcycle riding in Rio is an extreme sport. When the inevitable traffic hell stops you cold, that's the signal for the motorbikes to rip between the lines of stopped cars. We're talking about a train of motorcycles going 60 kilometres an hour tilting within inches of cars. They protect themselves by constantly honking their horns.
It's a three-ringed circus on the road, with the performance musically accompanied by the staccato of car horns. In Rio, if you take one second to move your car, you get the horns.
But as you inch by Ipanema Beach waiting for yet another red light, a young man with white-face on rolls out a plastic barrel in the intersection, stands on it and proceeds to juggle. He jumps down after his performance and with cap in hand goes looking for contributions. He doesn't realize how much of a rich man he already is having escaped injury.
It's a 20km trip to my apartment. It takes 80 minutes.
And this is only Rio.
Once the city really takes notice of the tournament, it should be epic.
In Sao Paulo, where Brazil opens the World Cup against Croatia on Thursday, Metro workers are on strike even though they have been legislated back to work.
Sao Paolo is Brazil's largest city and with no public transit, traffic there is being called horrendous. One can only imagine what it will be like if that's what the locals are describing.
Your head continues to swivel but it comes close to blowing off with the assault on all your senses.
Rio is wildly verdant in some areas, a concrete jungle in others. You look down from the elevated highway on the outskirts of town and see a sow running loose and rooting.
On one side stretches the beach and hills with the massive statue of Christ the Redeemer, arms outstretched, embracing everything believers say he has created.
That would have to include the favelas that dot every hillside on the other side. The shantytowns are so well known they've made poverty a tourist attraction. What's already dreadfully depressing just becomes more head-shaking.
There is so much to see and to experience in a city and country that offers so much more than merely soccer.
But there is the soccer.
That too has much promise. Like the country itself, though, the teams are under pressure to deliver the kind of spectacular football those believers say World Cup 2014 in Brazil must deliver.
The early news has been about injuries and possible injuries.
Franck Ribery, Marco Reus and Radamel Falcao are out, with Luis Saurez and Cristiano Ronaldo not at 100% among several others.
The news about tournament withdrawals received another crushing blow. Jennifer Lopez has pulled out of performing the official World Cup song at the tournament's opening ceremony.
Officials said the singer could not attend Thursday's show because of unspecified "production issues."
Reus, Riberty, Falcao and now Lopez! How many more hammer blows can the tournament take?
Unfortunately rapper Pitbull did not pull out and will continue to perform.
In three days, the soccer festival will begin being played out under the spectre of many of Brazil's economic and social problems.
It will be on a spectacular stage and a spectacular tournament ... one way or the other.