November 07, 2012

SAO PAULO (AP) -- Doubts about whether Brazil would be able to get the venues for the Confederations Cup ready for next year will end on Thursday when FIFA announces the host cities.

It is the first big test of Brazil's capacity to prepare for the 2014 World Cup, and the decision will show if the country has met or fallen short of expectations.

FIFA initially announced six venues, but slow preparations in the northeastern cities of Salvador and Recife prompted football's governing body to create backup match schedules with four and five venues in case the original plan fell through.

The cities had until this month to show improvement and convince FIFA ahead of its announcement of the final match schedule.

Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza and Brasilia have been secured as hosts. The opener will be in Brasilia and the final will be played at Maracana Stadium in Rio.

The biggest question mark has been about Recife, which was forced to advance its final construction deadline by 10 months after FIFA said it wanted the city in the Confederations Cup. The 46,000-seat Arena Pernambuco, which will host five World Cup matches, was more than 70 percent completed by the end of October, according to constructors. It was only 52 percent built in July.

"We are confident,'' said Ricardo Leitao, the government official in charge of preparations in Recife. "Everything that the state of Pernambuco promised to FIFA is being done. We are sticking to the schedule and we are on track to deliver the Arena Pernambuco in February 2013.''

FIFA usually wants new venues ready six months before competitions so at least two test events can be completed, but in this case it would accept taking over the Arena Pernambuco just four months ahead of the tournament's first match on June 15.

Last month, Brazil Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo, the official responsible for the World Cup and Olympic preparations, guaranteed Recife would be ready. His assertion came just a few days after FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke expressed his concern over the slow pace of construction at some Confederations Cup stadiums, without naming any of them.

Valcke said recently that there will be no room for error in Brazil after the tournament's ticket sales begin on Dec. 3. He called it a "crucial moment'' in the preparations and said "it would be very problematic'' to have venues run into problems at this stage. The tournament's draw will take place on Dec. 1.

Recife is trying to avoid repeating the disappointment of other venues that didn't get to participate in previous Confederations Cups. It happened to Kaiserslautern in Germany in 2005 and Port Elizabeth in South Africa in 2009.

The Confederations Cup will be played from June 15-30 among the six continental champions, the World Cup winner and the host team.

Seven teams have already secured their participation: Asian champion Japan, CONCACAF Gold Cup winner Mexico, South American champion Uruguay, World Cup holder Spain, European runner-up Italy, Oceania champion Tahiti and host Brazil. The African Cup of Nations winner will be known in February.

FIFA has said that although some of the preparations for the Confederations Cup were a concern, it was not currently worried with the pace of work for the World Cup.

On Wednesday, nearly 1,500 workers at the Arena das Dunas in Natal went on strike demanding a 25 percent salary increase and better benefits. It wasn't the first time workers had stopped construction at the site, which was the last to start being built. There have also been workers' strikes at other World Cup venues in the past, including at the Arena Pernambuco, the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, the Fonte Nova in Salvador and the Mineirao in Belo Horizonte.

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