Valcke: There's no time to relax until WCup opener
SAO PAULO (AP) Brazil is getting close to finalizing its preparations for the World Cup but there's ''not a single moment to relax'' until the opener in less than two weeks, FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said Friday.
After touring all host cities one last time, Valcke said organizers are working hard to make sure the country is ready for the World Cup.
''Over the last few days I had the chance to witness preparations in the 12 host cities for the 20th edition of football's flagship event,'' he said. ''Overall, we are getting there, with the teams on the ground busy applying the final touches.''
He said work has to continue at full pace as players and fans ''deserve the best conditions and a warm reception in the host country.'' Everything ''must be perfect'' by the June 12 opener.
''As I said many times, the staging of a FIFA World Cup is a collective effort and we will not have a single moment to relax until the opening matches in all 12 cities are played,'' Valcke said.
The secretary general said the first few days will be important with many high-profile matches played early in the group stage, including England vs. Italy in the jungle city of Manaus and Spain vs. Netherlands in the northeastern city of Salvador, a rematch of the 2010 final in South Africa.
''Hardly ever has a FIFA World Cup offered so many top class fixtures,'' Valcke said. ''This puts extra pressure on all of us and in particular our venue teams as all of them - and sorry if I keep repeating myself - must be perfect.''
Also Friday, FIFA President Sepp Blatter said he expects a ''great World Cup'' in Brazil. He will arrive in the country next week and meet with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to ''wish her all the best.''
''And she will wish the same for me because we are in the same boat,'' Blatter told FIFA.com. ''(We want) to deliver the best possible World Cup, or the best ever World Cup.''
Valcke's inspection trips to the host cities ended on Thursday. He said he was mostly satisfied with the progress being made across the country, but sent warnings to organizers in Sao Paulo, the southern city of Porto Alegre and the northeastern venue of Natal.
Sao Paulo has proven the most problematic venue because of chronic delays at the Itaquerao stadium which will host the Brazil-Croatia opener.
Valcke said he was looking forward to the second test event at the stadium this weekend, which would allow organizers to ''test all aspects and then make the final adjustments to ensure all will be perfect'' for the inaugural match.
But the Brazilian league match scheduled for the stadium likely won't be played in front of a full crowd as requested by FIFA because of safety concerns from local authorities. The first time the stadium will have a capacity crowd of nearly 70,000 people will be the day of the opener.
Valcke said he has noticed a ''growing excitement'' for the first World Cup in Brazil since 1950, and expects fans and players to have ''the time of their life and a memorable experience'' in the country.
''The World Cup is here,'' he said. ''The world is ready to experience Brazil.''
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