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Brazil struggles with its World Cup preparations

AP - Sports

SAO PAULO (AP) -- Although expectations are high for Brazil's football team at the World Cup, it's already clear the country didn't do a very good job preparing for the tournament.

With two weeks left before the opener, there are still concerns about the country's readiness. Doubts remain about whether some stadiums will be fully ready, and it's already known that not all promised infrastructure work will be completed.

Organizers will also have to worry about the widespread street protests that are expected during the tournament with demonstrators already unhappy about corruption, poor public services and the billions of dollars being spent to host the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

Even though Brazil was awarded the World Cup in 2007, local organizers are scrambling to complete all the necessary work. FIFA acknowledged recently that it was ''a race'' to make sure the country delivers everything it promised.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter said there were delays because ''there was no work for years,'' but he was confident ''Brazil will be a well-done World Cup.''

''We're very close now,'' FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said. ''Soon we're going to hand the tournament over to the players and the 32 teams. There is very little left to worry about. We just need to make sure the teams arrive safely and get to their training centers so they can begin preparing for the tournament.''

Construction work at stadiums was still underway, however, including at the one hosting the opening match between Brazil and Croatia on June 12 in Sao Paulo.

All six venues that were expected to be ready by the end of last year missed FIFA's deadline. The other six had already been used during the Confederations Cup, but four of those also weren't ready when expected. One of the host cities, Curitiba, was nearly excluded from the competition because of the delays at its stadium.

Because the venues took so long to be ready, FIFA is now racing to install the temporary structures that are crucial for the media, sponsors and technical teams. Some of the host cities didn't want to pay for them even though they signed contracts saying they would.

The northeastern city of Recife didn't want to pay for its fanfest, which allows those without tickets to watch matches in public areas for free, prompting FIFA to say it could sue the city for breach of contract. It remains unclear if the event will happen.

''All is written, all is signed and all the responsibilities or duties for each party are very well known,'' FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said.

There were so many difficulties in Brazil that football's governing body has already hinted that things will be done differently in Russia in four years.

''It's a lesson and definitely we will act differently,'' Valcke said. ''We will have to find a different way of working for Russia 2018.''

The biggest loser this time is Brazil itself, which for political reasons insisted in hosting the tournament in 12 cities instead of the eight that FIFA wanted and now is paying the price.

The local government didn't take full advantage of the World Cup and missed a series of opportunities to improve the country. Because of a lack of proper planning, some of the promised infrastructure projects were canceled and many will only be ready after the competition ends.

Airports won't be fully ready in time, according to industry experts, and there are also concerns with transportation projects and even with energy supply during the monthlong competition.

Back in 2007, then president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said the World Cup stadiums would be financed mostly by private companies, but today it's known that public funds are behind the vast majority of them, either through loans or tax breaks.

That, in part, is what is expected to fuel the street protests across the country, many of which could turn violent, as happened during last year's Confederations Cup. The warm-up tournament was not directly affected, but demonstrators used the competition's international appeal to attract attention to their demands and complain against FIFA and the local government.

With about 150,000 professionals from security forces and armed forces available, the Brazilian government is promising that ''the World Cup in Brazil will be the safest'' ever despite the protests.

But there is little doubt organizers can't wait for the opening kickoff, when most of the focus will turn away from the off-the-field issues.

Then it will all be on the shoulders of Neymar and coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who will have a much better chance to give Brazilians a reason to celebrate.

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