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Will Brazil be ready for 2014?

FIFA frets as promises wither on drawing board

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There will be a renovated Maracana, five new stadiums and a bullet train from Rio de Janeiro to Sao Paulo.

Will be? Might be? We're four years away from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and we still don't know the answer. What we do know is none of these projects have begun. Is it time to start being concerned?

Jerome Valcke already is. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, the FIFA general secretary said it is "amazing" that Brazilian organizers are so far behind schedule. "Brazil is not on the right path," he said. "All the things they have promised -- all the commitments from different people -- they have to deliver on these commitments. We do not want a hasty World Cup done at the last minute."

That may be unavoidable. As Valcke later pointed out, Brazil is in the middle of a presidential election campaign. A successor to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will be chosen in October and take office in January. Work on World Cup projects is unlikely to commence before then.

But with just four years to go before kickoff, shouldn't the work have started ages ago?

I posed this question to BBC journalist Tim Vickery last summer. He reasoned that the process was behind from the get-go because the host cities were determined so late. For this, he blames Brazilian Football Confederation (CFB) president Ricardo Teixeira.

Teixeira, he said, "didn't want to exclude anyone because that would alienate his power base." So rather than choose between the various cities on his own -- and risk the support that keeps him in his job -- the CBF president left the decision to FIFA. The international governing body, rather than selecting the host cities based on their abilities to stage matches, chose them randomly.

"It's a bit like the Pope being chosen," said Vickery. "A puff of smoke goes up and these are the host cities."

Twelve of the cities already have stadiums, although most will require upgrades. The rest (Recife, Salvador, Manaus, Natal and Ciuabá) will be building from scratch. And the first shovel has yet to turn sod. But it's the transportation system that most concerns FIFA.

Many of Brazil's airports were built in the 1940s and have not been renovated since. The government has pledged $2.5 billion US to improve them and has earmarked an additional $11 billion US to build the bullet train and give the country's rail network a facelift.

But even if the work is completed on time, Brazilian taxpayers will be left with an invoice of at least $14 billion. And with nothing to show for the money so far, the legacy of the 2014 World Cup seems less likely to be futbol-arte than crippling debt for years to come.

Spot kicks

Honduras striker Carlos Costly will miss the World Cup with a broken foot. One of Central America's most deadly strikers, Costly has scored 14 goals in 39 games for his country, including the match-winner against Canada in a World Cup qualifier in 2008.

Fabio Capello named England's 30-man provisional squad on Tuesday. Calgary's Owen Hargreaves failed to make the cut, although Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher was recalled after a brief international retirement. Aston Villa winger Ashley Young was also omitted.

Admitting he had "one or two" doubts about certain players on his squad, Portugal manager Carlos Queiroz named a 24-man provisional squad on Tuesday. The roster will be pared down to 23 in the coming weeks, and the extra spot was likely created to accommodate Real Madrid defender Pepe, who has been out with a knee injury since December.

Francesco Totti will not be coming out of international retirement this summer. The 33-year-old AS Roma striker was left off Italy manager Marcelo Lippi's provisional squad, Tuesday, as was Rossoneri teammate Luca Toni. New Jersey-born forward Giuseppe Rossi was included in the 30-man call-up.

Ronaldinho will not play a part in the 2010 World Cup. The two-time FIFA World Player of the Year was not named to Dunga's Brazil squad, yesterday, and Santos whiz-kid Neymar was also left out. Adriano and Hernanes also failed to make the grade.

SNbSjerradpeters@gmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 12, 2010 C2

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