As draw looms, Brazil shrugs off Cup delays
Workers put finishing touches to the stage where the Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup final draw will take place on December 6, in Costa do Sauipe, state of Bahia, on December 2, 2013
Although hosts Brazil say all 12 stadiums will be ready in time for test events early next year, Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo revealed six will not meet FIFA's now redundant December 31 deadline.
FIFA conceded on Tuesday that it would afford some leeway to three venues, including Sao Paulo, the scene of a fatal accident last week, as well as Cuiaba and Curitiba, where work is lagging behind schedule.
But Rebelo said the stadiums in Porto Alegre, Manaus and Natal would also be handed over after the original December 31 deadline owing, not to construction delays, but to President Dilma Rousseff's diary.
"There are delays but they will not be significant. What matters is that we are ready to go in January," Rebelo said in the northeastern Bahia state beach resort of Costa do Sauipe, where rehearsals are under way for Friday's draw.
He partly attributed the delay to Rousseff's crowded Christmas and New Year agenda of official engagements, including a lunch for homeless people in Sao Paulo.
Rebelo said Curitiba would be ready in late January rather than late February as stated by FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke on Tuesday -- while Porto Alegre must overcome construction delays.
"But these stadiums will be delivered within a good time for the pre-World Cup tests," said Rebelo.
On Tuesday, FIFA backtracked after months of insisting it would not extend its deadline, having allowed late finishes ahead of last June's Confederations Cup, the dress rehearsal for the World Cup finals.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter said Sao Paulo's Arena Corinthians would get more time following last week's crane accident in which two construction workers died, and Rebelo suggested the World Cup was rather like organising a marriage.
"At 100 percent of weddings I've seen the bride arrives late. I've never seen one arrive on time -- but never saw a marriage that didn't go ahead," he said.
Brazilian officials also insisted every measure would be taken to ensure the competition is not marred by the kind of violent protest which hit the Confederations Cup, with the country's justice minister saying the giant nation "must not rest on its laurels" but "constantly improve" security.
As for the draw itself, organisers are working through different permutations to ensure that countries from the same confederation are kept apart as far as possible.
With 13 European nations competing, some groups will by necessity contain two teams from Europe.
One random European team will go into a different pot from its fellow non-seeded continental rivals and avoid playing a European seed.
The five South American countries will also make up a sub-pot in a bid to ensure that three Europeans cannot meet at the group stage.
"It's not easy to understand – the first take it took me some time," admitted Valcke.
While three-times champions Germany say they are ready to take on all-comers, England coach Roy Hodgson says geography is a key factor as the team drawn second in Brazil's group faces a marathon travel schedule in the huge host nation.
After playing five-times champions Brazil in the June 12 opener in Sao Paulo, that team will then have to fly almost 3,000km to Manaus in sultry Amazonia for their next match.
They would then face a similar haul to Recife in the northeast -- as hot, albeit less humid, for their third group game.
By contrast, a luckier team could enjoy far cooler conditions in southern city Porto Alegre.
Italy are proposing a two-minute time-out per half to lessen the risk of dehydration in the heat with FIFA maintaining several lunchtime kick-offs in some of the hottest venues.
Valcke will oversee the draw -- which gets underway at 1600GMT -- and will be joined on stage by eight former stars, including Englishman Geoff Hurst, the only man ever to score a World Cup final hat-trick.
The oldest former player set to appear is 86-year-old Alcides Ghiggia, the last survivor of Uruguay's shock win over Brazil in the deciding match of the 1950 World Cup at the Maracana Stadium.
Meanwhile, FIFA media director Walter de Gregorio dismissed as ridiculous any suggestion that a decision to choose light-skinned model Fernanda Lima and her white TV presenter husband Rodrigo Hilbert to compare the event instead of dark-skinned pair Camila Pitanga and Lázaro Ramos was racist, saying he was not aware of a reported legal action over the affair.