Brazil waits nervously on Curitiba verdict
18 February 2014, 21:05
Florianopolis - The organisers of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were hours away on Tuesday from learning whether FIFA had taken the momentous decision to drop Curitiba from the list of 12 venues hosting matches.
If the axe were to fall on Curitiba, it would be a humiliating blow to the football-mad nation, which has also been trumpeting its economic progress over the past few years.
Work on Curitiba has been even slower than on the other 11 venues, which two months ago won an extended deadline from FIFA to finish the work.
Many Brazilians believe the cost of hosting the tournament has come at the expense of public services and there have been protests which came to a head at last year's World Cup finals dress rehearsal the Confederations Cup.
There are fears that those were just a foretaste of what is to come in June when the finals take place.
Curitiba residents are angry at what they say is a lack of transparency on spending.
The stadium was due initially to cost 130 million Reais ($65 million).
The stadium's owners Atletico Paranaense initially hoped to fund the venue privately themselves but costs have mushroomed to 320 million reais, forcing local authorities to step in and organise bank loans worth some $30 million.
Local protesters called a march for Tuesday afternoon to slam the rising costs and use of public funds.
The decision over Curitiba has overshadowed the arrival of the coaches of the 32 qualifying nations in the southern city of Florianapolis for a pre-World Cup seminar which will allow them to discuss logistics and assess facilities.
But the key issue hovering over the proceedings is whether all 12 venues will actually make it to the starting line.
As well as the popular protests, preparations have been beset by construction delays.
There have also been six fatal accidents at the venues of Manaus, Brasilia and Sao Paulo, which will host the June 12 opening match between the hosts and Croatia.
- 'D-Day' -
FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke, who will announce the decision at around 1800 GMT, said on his last visit in January that Tuesday would be D-day for the 40,000-capacity Arena da Baixada.
On that occasion, Valcke demanded signs of real progress ahead of the expected stadium delivery in late April or early May.
Two weeks ago, FIFA said "Valcke believes that Curitiba is moving in the right direction."
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff promptly insisted she was "sure" that Curitiba would make it.
The stadium, now 91 percent complete, according to Atletico Paranaense, is slated to stage four group matches during the tournament, including Australia versus reigning champions Spain on June 23.
Valcke himself will not go to Curitiba on this visit with FIFA assessor Charles Botta to determine if the venue has made sufficient progress to stay in the game.
After his January visit, Valcke said bluntly: "We cannot organise a match without a stadium, this has reached a critical point."
"Not only is it very behind in its construction, but it has failed to meet any of the deadlines set by FIFA."
Yet even as Valcke expressed those reservations, FIFA president Sepp Blatter, after meeting Rousseff in Zurich, predicted: "There won't be any problem. In the end, everything will be fine in Brazil."
Jose Maria Martin, president of Brazil's Football Confederation (CBF) weighed in by declaring he was "absolutely certain" Curitiba would make it.
But that optimism has not prevented speculation in the Brazilian media that FIFA has already earmarked Porto Alegre as a stand-by host if Curitiba ultimately comes up short.
Having praised Manaus to the rafters during his visit there last weekend, Valcke on Monday batted away all speculation on what the final decision will be.
"As announced many times, decision on Curitiba will only happen on 18 Feb," he tweeted.
"(The) Rest (is) pure speculation by people who just want to create rumours."