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Cafu, Bebeto say Brazil would suffer a blow if World Cup venue in Curitiba must be removed

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RIO DE JANEIRO - Former Brazil stars Cafu and Bebeto on Thursday said failure to complete one of the 12 World Cup venues on time would be a blow to the nation.

"If Arena da Baixada (stadium in Curitiba) is not included, it would be a disaster, not only for FIFA but for Curitiba and Brazil," Cafu said at a press conference with top government and officials of FIFA.

Bebeto sounded a similar alarm. Both are serving as "ambassadors," to promote football's showpiece event.

"I'm sure Curitiba will be able to surprise us; otherwise it would be terrible for all of us Brazilians," Bebeto said. "We asked for the World Cup, we fought for our candidacy. It would really be terrible."

Jerome Valcke, FIFA's top official in charge of the World Cup, visited Curitiba earlier in the week and said at the time: "We cannot organize a match without a stadium. This has reached a critical point."

He said Thursday FIFA would make another assessment of the stadium on Feb. 18 and there would be "hourly monitoring" of progress.

On a positive note, he said that fans "could still buy tickets and book their flights to go to Curitiba."

"It is a challenge," Valcke added. "But it will be a huge challenge for FIFA to remove and change and to relocate these four games. So there is no easy solution. The easiest and the best for Brazil is to make sure ... we can work and organize these four games in Curitiba."

Deputy Sports Minister Luis Fernandes said a new management committee would oversee progress, and said more experienced people would be in charge. He said he did not know how much the extra push to finish the stadium would cost.

Jose Maria Marin, head of the Brazilian football confederation, said he was hopeful.

Valcke said that the stadium now should be ready by the end of April or early May, four months behind schedule and only weeks before the World Cup starts on June 12.

Brazil is spending about $3.6 billion on new and renovated stadiums, and about three times that much on related infrastructure. About 80 per cent of the stadium money is from public funds. Officials promised before the World Cup was awarded that stadiums would be built with only private money.

"It would be very harmful if Curitiba were left out of the World Cup," Marin said. "But I don't believe this will happen. I guess everyone will come together."

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Stephen Wade on Twitter: http://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP

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