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New York Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles (left), goes up to collect a ball during the second half of an MLS soccer game against the Houston Dynamo, April 23, in Harrison, NJ. The Red Bulls won 4-0. (AP)
Be optimistic about Brazil: Blatter Valcke happy with Cuiaba despite delays

HONG KONG, April 24, (Agencies): FIFA president Sepp Blatter has encouraged fans to be optimistic that the World Cup in Brazil will be a success, amid growing concerns over security and public unrest as workers scramble to finish stadiums on time. The Swiss said similar public scepticism had accompanied preparations for previous World Cups and yet the tournaments had proved to be successes, despite not all the work being finished. “It is my 10th World Cup... and I can tell you I have never seen a World Cup that everything is ready, completely ready before the kick-off,” Blatter told reporters in Hong Kong on Thursday. “Football, with more than 300 million active participants, more than one billion fans, they are now waiting for this World Cup. It is in Brazil, it is a country where football has been, let’s say the best footballers of the world are from.

“It will be a great tournament. Be optimistic as we are optimistic, football is optimistic. Football is giving emotions to the world today in this perturbed world we are living in.” Earlier this month, a local poll said less than half of Brazilians were in favour of still hosting the June 12-July 13 tournament, believing it would do more harm than good. That opinion in the soccer-obsessed nation has come after last year’s widespread street protests during the Confederations Cup, with public anger at money being spent on building stadiums rather than improving health care and education. Blatter had said earlier this month that the 2014 World Cup would “be the most successful of all time”, though three stadiums and several airports are not ready while other promised infrastructure has been shelved.

Earlier this month, a two-day police strike led to a surge in violent crime in Salvador, one of 12 cities that will host games in the 32 team tournament. Riots also broke out this week in the tourist hotspot of Copacabana, with gunshots fired, trash and at least one car burned and widespread vandalism reported after residents learned of the death of someone from their community. Blatter dismissed concerns and said similar security issues were voiced before the last World Cup in South Africa in 2010. “Security is the matter of the government and the state. FIFA can not ensure security. This is part of the commitment of the organising government, in this case the government of Brazil when they have received the World Cup,” the 78-year-old said. “The same time, just four years ago, people were saying that nobody shall go to South Africa. We shall go with bullet-proof jackets because it’s no security. “Please believe me, football, football is stronger than anybody else, anybody and any other movement in the world.”

While Blatter was attending the Hong Kong Football Association’s ceremony to mark their 100th anniversary, about 10 protesters shouted slogans against alleged labour exploitation in the manufacture of World Cup-related products in developing countries. Asked if he would run for re-election for a fifth term in office next year, the Swiss said “you’ll know more about that” after the FIFA Congress in Sao Paolo on June 11. Visiting FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said Wednesday he was “satisfied” over preparations at the World Cup venue of Cuiaba in central Brazil, despite 15,000 seats still having to be fitted. “I am certain Cuiaba will be ready. There are no big problems here. I don’t want to compare with other stadiums. I am satisfied,” added Valcke, adding as long as the seats are installed on the due date he would be happy with that. With only 50 days to go to the start of the even, Brazil is racing to complete preparations.

Legal disputes have slowed down work at Cuiaba, but, overall, fatal accidents at Sao Paulo, Manaus and Brasilia have marred preparations for Brazil’s first World Cup since 1950. Valcke had earlier this week expressed some concerns over work remaining at Sao Paulo’s Corinthians Arena and at Curitiba, which he granted a reprieve in February having earlier threatened to exclude the venue. On Tuesday, he indicated Sao Paulo would only be ready “at the last minute” for the June 12 World Cup curtain-raiser after a full capacity test next month. “Sao Paulo will be ready for the opening match,” Valcke insisted Tuesday, while insisting there was not a minute to lose as “we are running against time.”

Valcke also said Sao Paulo would host a first official test, a Brazilian league game, with full capacity on May 17 or 18. But with FIFA normally wanting three tests at venues Valcke indicated that meant Sao Paulo faced “a very tight schedule.” Having come through a first test game on April 2, Cuiaba is due to host a second match Saturday before a 30,000 crowd for a second division match featuring Rio side Vasco de Gama. Local authorities say all will be ready by May 5 ahead of an official inauguration slated for May 7 or 14.

The Pantanal Arena is slated to host four World Cup matches — Chile v Australia on June 13, Russia v South Korea on June 17, Nigeria v Bosnia on June 21 and Japan’s game with Colombia on June 24. On Thursday, Valcke will visit the Aterro de Iracema site due to host the Fan Fest or open air street party area for ticketless fans in the northern city of Fortaleza. Friday he will hold a news conference on his latest Brazil tour in Rio de Janeiro.

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