SAO PAULO (AP) — FIFA announced the match schedule for the Confederations Cup featuring six host cities on Wednesday, with Brazil beginning its title defense in the nation's capital of Brasilia.
FIFA confirmed the inclusion of the northeastern cities of Salvador and Recife in the warm-up tournament, but the venues have a mid-November deadline to show progress in their preparations to avoid being dropped. Local organizers say FIFA has also prepared schedules for only four or five cities.
The other host cities will be Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza and Rio de Janeiro, which will host the final at Maracana stadium. Brasilia will only stage the opening match, while the other cities will host three each in the 16-match schedule.
"The announcement of this match schedule represents the successful common effort by all of those involved," Brazil Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo said at a FIFA event in Rio de Janeiro. "This effort will be confirmed in November through a lot of work and dedication."
The draw for the June 15-30 tournament will take place later this year.
The tournament features the six continental champions in addition to the World Cup winner and host country. The eight teams are divided into two groups, with the top two advancing to the semifinals.
"This event is more than just a curtain-raiser for what is to come in 2014," FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke said. "Yes, it is an important operational test for the country and host cities, but at the same time it showcases football at the highest level."
Five teams have secured their spot for next year's competition — Asian champion Japan, CONCACAF Gold Cup winner Mexico, South American champion Uruguay, World Cup winner Spain and host Brazil. The Oceania champion will be decided on June 10, the European champion on July 1 and the Africa Cup of Nations winner in February 2013.
"We are committed to delivering the greatest FIFA Confederations Cup ever," said former Brazil striker Ronaldo, a member of Brazil's local World Cup organizing committee. "It is a big challenge for the six host cities, who have worked so hard to come to this point. But their effort will surely pay off with memorable matches, great celebrations and the huge international awareness that the tournament will raise for these cities."
Brazil, the tournament's most successful team after winning in 1997, 2005 and 2009, will also play in Fortaleza and Salvador. The team will play the semifinal in Belo Horizonte if it wins its group, and in Fortaleza if it loses. As is the case in the World Cup, Brazil will only play at the Maracana if it makes the final.
FIFA had said that it would confirm by June whether the cities of Recife and Salvador would be included in the tournament, but the final decision will have to wait until a visit by FIFA inspectors in November because of slow preparations in both cities.
The biggest concern has been with Recife, where the Brazilian government says only 33 percent of the stadium had been completed by April. The venue in Salvador was 56 percent ready.
Last week, Brazilian officials said only 5 percent of all the World Cup projects had been completed and just eight of 51 infrastructure undertakings will be implemented in time for the Confederations Cup.
Valcke was in Brazil for the first time since his harsh criticism over Brazil's preparations ignited a spat with local government officials. The secretary general had been scheduled to visit the country in March but the visit was canceled. His last visit to the South American country was in January, but he met with local organizers and government officials earlier this month in Zurich.
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