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Brazil's president tries to reconnect with voters by snubbing FIFA gathering

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RIO DE JANEIRO - If it were a marriage, the divorce papers would've been filed already. But with the spotlight now turned on Brazil and the opening of the World Cup, the nation's embattled president and the head of soccer's governing body have no choice but to play nice.

If and when they're together, that is.

President Dilma Rousseff was a no-show Tuesday as FIFA President Sepp Blatter presided over the annual assembly of 209 member nations. While it's customary for the head of the World Cup host country to address the meeting, Brazil's sports minister replaced Rousseff without any explanation.

The World Cup has emerged as a potential liability for Rousseff, who has seen her approval ratings steadily fall ahead of an October election. Unfinished projects, traffic jams, charges of wasted money all have tarnished her image, experts say, while the Cup itself offers her little opportunity to shine.

"The less she appears, the better," said Thiago de Aragao, a political analyst for the Brasilia-based Arko Advice consulting firm.

Rousseff is expected to appear with Blatter on Thursday when Brazil meets Croatia in the tournament's opener, but neither is expected to speak. Last year at the Confederations Cup soccer tournament, a jeering crowd drowned out Rousseff's remarks while a stun-faced Blatter looked on.

There is widespread frustration in Brazil over the games. The heavy spending to prepare host cities, while schools and hospitals languish, has soured many on the World Cup — and soccer's governing body.

"Who deserves respect are the Brazilian people, not FIFA," said Patrick Guimaraes, 27, a kiosk vendor whose sentiment is common.

FIFA has been derided for everything from displacing local vendors from stadiums and pressuring Brazil to allow alcohol sales at the games to blocking the sale of discounted tickets for students and senior citizens. Internationally, the Zurich-based organization is reeling from a match-fixing scandal and allegations that a former Qatari official paid bribes to win hosting rights for the 2022 tournament.

FIFA's relationship with Brazil has been tense since the South American nation won the tournament seven years ago. Things soured dramatically in 2012, when FIFA's Secretary General Jerome Valcke said the country needed a "kick in the backside" to meet deadlines for planned stadiums and transportation upgrades. Valcke later apologized, but the damage was done

"To a lot of Brazilians, FIFA looks like a foreign master dictating orders," said former Foreign Minister Luiz Felipe Lampreia.

The country's deep ambivalence about hosting the tournament is apparent. There's even a term Brazilians frequently use to describe the gap between the high standards demanded by soccer's governing body and the low quality of public services they've grown to expect: "FIFA Quality."

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AP Writer Ana Santos contributed to this report

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