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Brazil charging to finish line

Brazil charging to finish line

Brazil charging to finish line

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Despite stadium setbacks, deaths and protests, Cup host vows it’s set to shine

One month from the start of the World Cup, Brazil is scrambling to get the stage ready for Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi while dousing lingering anger at the event’s multi-billion dollar price tag.

As league championships around the world draw to a close, Ronaldo and Messi are bracing to headline a galaxy of stars at the four-week showpiece which kicks off on June 12 in Sao Paulo.

Organizers hope Brazil’s opening game against Croatia at the futuristic Corinthians Arena will draw a line under the pretournament chaos, allowing soccer to finally take center stage.

The stadium has itself become emblematic of the problems faced during the buildup, where the logistical complexities of staging the 32-team extravaganza have at times appeared overwhelming.

Construction of the $424 million stadium ground to a halt in November when a giant crane toppled over and killed two workers. A third laborer died in an accident in March.

The 68,000-capacity venue is one of 12 World Cup stadiums that were supposed to be ready by the end of December. Only six were completed on time, with final delivery to FIFA pushed back to May 15.

Eight workers have died so far during construction of World Cup venues, with the most recent involving a 32-year-old man electrocuted at the Pantanal Arena in Cuiaba on Thursday.

“We’ve been through hell,” FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke said last week as he reflected on the campaign to press Brazilian officials to speed up construction.

“We’re supporting Brazil to ensure that it’s a success because the whole of FIFA is based around the success of the World Cup,” Valcke said. “If the World Cup is a failure then we, FIFA, are in trouble.”

The estimated $11 billion Brazil is spending on the tournament has angered many in a country grappling with chronically under-funded health and public services, poor transport and violent crime.

The scale of the protests at the Confederations Cup appeared to catch Brazilian authorities off-guard, and a massive security blanket will be draped across the World Cup in an effort to avoid similar scenes.

About 150,000 police and soldiers and 20,000 private security officers will be deployed across the 12 host venues to counter protesters whose slogan is “the Cup will not take place”.

Violent protests have flared intermittently since last year. Last month, a man was killed during clashes with police in Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach district.

Brazilian authorities insist the possibility of protests, and rates of violent street crime in several cities, should not be a deterrent to the estimated 600,000 foreign fans expected to travel to the World Cup.

“We all have our tragedies and challenges, serious problems relating to security,” Brazilian sports minister Aldo Rebelo said. “We have our deficiencies but will tackle the problems and overcome them.”

Despite the off-field problems, the tournament itself promises to be a classic, with defending champion Spain bidding to make history by becoming the first side from Europe to win a World Cup in South America.

Vicente del Bosque’s side has dominated international soccer for the past six years, winning consecutive European championships either side of its memorable triumph at the 2010 World Cup.

But the slick-passing Spanish were given a taste of what awaits them at this year’s World Cup when they were blown away by Brazil in the final of last year’s Confederations Cup.

Brazil, chasing a record sixth World Cup, hosts the tournament for the first time since its loss to Uruguay in the climax of the 1950 finals, when its neighbor inflicted a defeat which became a national trauma.

“We’re not just favorites – we have a duty of winning the World Cup,” said Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari in a recent interview.

(China Daily 05/12/2014 page23)

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