There were gloomy predictions aplenty, from transport chaos to boring football – but at the halfway point only one has come true
Given the huge distances between host cities, expanded from eight to 12 for political reasons, and the crazy decision to abandon the practice of grouping the opening round in geographic clusters, there were widespread predictions of transport chaos. Some airports were not finished on time – in Manaus, for example, row upon row of brand-new check-in desks lay unused – but fears that fans and teams would end up stranded or delayed have simply not materialised.
A last-ditch push by the government to force carriers to open more routes appears to have paid off and travel has, to date, been smooth and stress-free. "Airports have complied with the demands and pressures that an event of this dimension. The traffic hasn't been too different from what we see daily and the fans have been able to reach the stadium without any problems," said Brazilian sports minister Aldo Rebelo on Friday. "The World Cup is coming along very nicely, not only on the pitch but outside the stadium."
One of the biggest concerns for Fifa was the readiness of the stadiums. As Fifa secretary general Jérôme Valcke cranked up the pressure, there was a spate of deaths among construction workers as organisers battled to be ready in time.
In Sao Paulo, Manaus, Curtiba and Cuiaba work continued right up to the wire. And while there were still some rough edges, with exposed wires and some areas covered up with temporary hoardings, the brand new arenas have been packed and willing volunteers have helped maintain goodwill. The atmosphere inside the grounds has been good, even if Fifa's corporatism can be overbearing. Crowds have been largely white and middle class but Rebelo said ticket prices were not out of the ordinary for big sporting events in Brazil.
The graffiti artist Paulo Ito caught the mood in Brazil ahead of the World Cup with his picture of a hungry child with only a ball to eat. Widespread anger at perceived underspending on public services at a time when $11bn (£6.46bn) was being poured into hosting the World Cup manifested itself in mass demonstrations on the streets of Brazilian cities during last year's Confederations Cup.
But they have not been repeated during the World Cup, partly because the protest movement has fractured since the summer of 2013 and partly because there is a desire to focus on the football. There has also been a clampdown by police.
The political situation is complex. President Dilma Rousseff was booed and subjected to obscene chants during the opening match, but that was as much due to a moneyed Sao Paulo crowd protesting against her socialist policies. Meanwhile unions and protest groups have used the World Cup as a platform. Things could change if Brazil go out, but for now protests in Sao Paulo, Porto Alegre and elsewhere have remained small and the mood is largely celebratory.
Beyond the stadiums underlying tensions remain but Ito has again caught the mood with his latest work: a family, including a protestor with a "fuck Fifa" banner, crowded around the television watching the Selecao.
"This World Cup will remain one of the best ever when we are talking about the football," Valcke said on Friday at a press conference to mark the end of the group stages. The stodgy, boring fare on offer in South Africa four years ago prompted much handwringing about the future of international football in an age when club competitions seem to take precedence. But almost every game in Brazil has been a thrilling feast of attacking football averaging almost three goals a game. Established stars such as Lionel Messi and Neymar have performed, while a host of new names have come to prominence as Costa Rica, Chile and Colombia have surprised the pundits. Fifa and the organisers will hope the trend continues into the knock out phase.
While the carnival continues in Brazil, England's footballers flew home early on Wednesday having won just a single point and straight into the usual swirl of Premier League transfer hype. Their early exit, all but confirmed after just two matches, has prompted the usual inquest into everything from Roy Hodgson's tactics and team selection to whether the Premier League's dominance is strangling the chances of young homegrown players. Hodgson has insisted he will learn the lessons of an underwhelming campaign as he attempts to mould his young players into a coherent team. But former FA chairman David Bernstein has warned that without major changes to the structure of English football, nothing will change.