COSTA DO SAUIPE, Brazil – Global football chief Sepp Blatter insisted preparations for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil have been on track despite construction delays and a deadly accident which mean three stadiums will miss an end-of-year deadline to be ready.
As the football world geared up for Friday's eagerly-anticipated draw, governing body FIFA revealed three of the tournament's 12 venues would not be able to meet the December 31 deadline for delivery.
One of the venues, Sao Paulo's Itaquerao stadium, was the scene of a fatal accident last week which claimed the lives of two workers who were crushed to death when a crane toppled over.
In addition, the delivery of stadiums at Curitiba and and Cuiaba is now set for February, just four months before the finals kick off in June.
FIFA President Blatter however played down the significance of the construction delays, saying he was confident Brazil would be successful hosts of their first World Cup since 1950.
"We have just received a report. There are some small delays in construction of stadia. But so small that with one exception (Sao Paulo) we can say everything is ready," said Blatter on Tuesday.
FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said the stadium in Curitiba, which has been lagging behind schedule more than the other venues, would not be ready until the end of February.
"Curitiba is the one where we are facing the most problems and won't be delivered before the end of February 2014.
"We will be ready to get the stadium by the end of February 2014," Valcke said.
The Arena Amazonia in Manaus, in the heart of the tropical rain forest, also remains under construction, as does the one at Cuiaba.
Brazilian sports ministry executive secretary Luis Fernandes indicated that the stadia lagging behind would be delivered "in late January, or late February."
On Wednesday, Brazilian Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo will be among officials fronting pre-draw events where the hosts will stress they can overcome doubts about transport links, hotel prices and urban crime.
Representatives from the Ministry of Tourism and the Civil Aviation authority will also address complaints about unreasonably high prices.
Other concerns focused on accommodation capacity with some 600,000 foreign tourists expected to attend the month-long event starting June 12 in Sao Paulo.
There is also a shortage of domestic flight links between venues as the government mulls whether to allow foreign airlines to run domestic routes to ease the strain.
Some countries are also worried about the sheer size of the country, as some teams may face an onerous travel schedule with matches as far south as Porto Alegre, cold in the Brazilian winter, but also in tropical Manaus, and sultry Fortaleza some 3,000 kilometres away.
The draw itself will feature eight groups of four teams and one of nine non-seeded European nations will face being moved into pot 2 alongside the five-strong African contingent and two South American sides.
England coach Roy Hodgson, whose unseeded team could be in line for a tough draw, says the geography issue is almost as important as which teams his men will face.
"There are venues in Brazil that will be harder to play in than others," said Hodgson before heading for Costa do Sauipe from Rio.
The eight seeds are hosts Brazil, reigning champions Spain, three-time winners Germany, Argentina, conquerors of two titles, fellow two-time winners Uruguay, Colombia, Belgium, and Switzerland, whom Hodgson led to the second round at USA '94.
With the draw venue an hour's drive north of the Bahia state capital Salvador, organizers are hoping the event will not be marred by the kind of popular unrest which hit last June's Confederations Cup.
Many Brazilians are angry at the estimated $11 billion cost of staging the World Cup – about another $15 billion will follow for the 2016 Rio Olympics – believing the money would have been better spent on improving public transport,education and health. AFP