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Valcke smiling, but WCup still a concern for FIFA

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 26, 2014 at 10:04 am •  Published: April 26, 2014

SAO PAULO (AP) — FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke ended his final visit to Brazil before the World Cup with an upbeat message, saying that in a few weeks he would be celebrating the start of a successful tournament by drinking a "caipirinha" cocktail with Brazil's sports minister Aldo Rebelo.

But it was clear that FIFA's top World Cup official wasn't fully happy with what he saw in the country, where there is still a lot to be done in very little time for the June 12-July 13 tournament.

Valcke noted a "very tight schedule" to finish work at the much delayed Sao Paulo stadium that will host the Brazil-Croatia opener. He also complained that the other two unfinished venues didn't have many of their seats installed and sent a blunt warning to organizers struggling to prepare the fanfests that FIFA requires.

In Friday's press conference wrapping up a four-day trip, the FIFA official talked mostly about a successful World Cup. He joked freely with Rebelo, the man who two years ago wanted him removed from his post for bluntly saying Brazil needed a kick to get things going.

Valcke showed optimism, but gave clear signs that football's governing body still has plenty of reason to be concerned.

"I never dream, what I like is what I see," Valcke said the day he arrived in Sao Paulo. "I'll be happy on the 13th of July, after the final."

FIFA wanted all 12 stadiums ready by the end of last year, but three are yet to be completed with less than seven weeks before the opener. There's only one official event scheduled before the high-profile opener in Sao Paulo, and not even with the venue's full capacity.

"Yes, Sao Paulo will be ready, last minute, but it will be ready," Valcke said, in a mix of confidence and caution.

The other stadium still under construction is the Arena da Baixada in the southern city of Curitiba, which was nearly excluded from the tournament earlier this year because of chronic delays. Valcke arrived to find out there is "still lots to do inside and outside" the stadium, including the installation of 27,000 seats.

Lack of seats was also a problem at the Arena Pantanal in the wetlands city of Cuiaba because of delivery delays, although Valcke said he was "fine" and "happy" with the overall progress at the venue.

During his trip, Valcke also said there were "potential issues" with the stadium in the southern city of Porto Alegre, which was completed but with work remaining outside the venue and on the temporary structures needed for matches.

One of Valcke's stops was in the northeastern city of Fortaleza to check on its location for the fanfest, which allows supporters without tickets to watch matches for free on large screens in public areas. There he gave a blunt warning to cities struggling to get their events organized, saying that they had "no choice" over the fanfests.

The warning came as officials in the neighboring city of Recife reiterated that they would not stage a fanfest unless private partners were found to help pay for the event. FIFA has said it could sue the cities without fanfests.

FIFA also faced last-minute problems in the run-up to the World Cup in South Africa four years ago, but Valcke refused to make comparisons.

"I don't like to look at the past, it makes no sense," Valcke said. "What's the importance of when South Africa was ready? What is important is for Brazil to be ready on time for the World Cup. 2010 is over. It was four years ago, it's finished."

Before leaving, Valcke also downplayed the recent outbreak of urban violence in Rio de Janeiro.

He will be back for good in late May and is already looking forward to that drink with Rebelo.

"I hope we'll enjoy a caipirinha with Aldo Rebelo on the day of the opening, just thinking, 'Wow, we made it,'" Valcke said. "And a bottle of champagne at the end of the World Cup by saying, 'Yes, we did it.'"


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