Brazil under pressure to prove can host World Cup

Brazil under pressure to prove can host World Cup

RIO DE JANEIRO - Agence France-Presse
Brazil under pressure to prove can host World Cup

The newly-renovated Mario Filho “Maracana” stadium, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil will be hosting games along with Mane Garrincha, Arena Pernambuco, Castelao, Fonte Nova and Mineirao AFP photo

When it kicks off the Confederations Cup 12 days from now, Brazil will have two weeks to convince sceptics that it can honour its pledge to stage a successful World Cup next year.

The upcoming tournament, in which eight teams -- Spain, Italy, Mexico, Brazil, Uruguay, Japan, Nigeria and Tahiti -- will compete from June 15 to 30, is seen as a dress rehearsal for the 2014 World Cup, soccer’s most prestigious event.

Some 355,000 Brazilians and foreign tourists are expected for the tournament for which Latin America’s leading power has struggled to complete the construction or renovation of the six host arenas.

The work has been plagued by repeated delays caused by strikes, roof collapse and other problems.

The latest contretemps occurred last Thursday when a judge ordered the suspension of the June 2 friendly international between Brazil and England at Rio’s hallowed Maracana stadium over safety concerns.

It took the intervention of Rio state authorities who had to produce evidence that the iconic arena met safety requirements for the judge to relent and lift the suspension, which was blamed on a “bureaucratic error.”

The news was greeted with relief by soccer world governing body FIFA.

“After 30 seconds of anxiety, I was delighted to receive a statement from the authorities in Rio saying that it was a bureaucratic error and that there is not, in fact, a problem with safety or with the structure,” its secretary general Jerome Valcke said from Mauritius, where he was attending a FIFA Congress. A crowd of 66,000 people eventually watched the match which ended in a 2-2 draw to complete the second test for the Maracana, which was inaugurated on April 27 after a $600-million-dollar 30-month renovation.

The friendly served as preparation for the Brazilian national squad ahead of the Confederations Cup, which will be played in six stadiums: Rio’s Maracana, Brasilia’s Mane Garrincha, Recife’s Arena Pernambuco, Fortaleza’s Castelao, Salvador’s Fonte Nova and Belo Horizonte’s Mineirao.

“It will be a fantastic tournament, but the operational part will not be 100 percent ready. (...) I want to repeat that such delays cannot be tolerated for the World Cup,” Valcke warned in April.

Brazil football great Romario, now a socialist lawmaker, reacting to the Maracana incident, chided President Dilma Rousseff for her upbeat assessment of stadium preparations.

“She must be ashamed of the nonsense that occurred [on May 30] soon after her comments” that Brazil “will host the best World Cup ever,” he noted.