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After spat, Brazil and FIFA try to get to work to prepare country for 2014 World Cup
SAO PAULO (AP) ' Brazil and FIFA have put their rift behind them. Now it's time to get to work.
A public war of words brought uncertainty over the country's preparations, but after apologies from FIFA and the approval of a key bill by the Brazilian government, both sides are moving forward.
With two years to go until the World Cup and just more than a year before the Confederations Cup, there are concerns about infrastructure work and stadium construction in some cities.
FIFA inspectors are in the country for a key visit to host cities, checking on progress and working closely with local governments. The team of nearly 40 people from FIFA and the local organizing committee were in the southern city of Curitiba on Thursday.
Things looked bleak only a few days ago, with queries whether Brazil would be able to host the tournament.
It started after FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke sent a blunt message to Brazil on Friday about preparations: "You have to push yourself, kick your arse."
Brazil Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo reacted quickly, saying the comments were "unacceptable, offensive and inappropriate" and telling FIFA that the government would not deal with Valcke anymore.
Valcke apologized on Monday, as did FIFA President Sepp Blatter on Tuesday.
The Brazilian government is still deciding whether it will change its position regarding Valcke, but it is satisfied that FIFA backed down. A congressional commission on the same day of Blatter's apology approved a key bill about organizing the World Cup, accepting several demands by FIFA and giving it financial and legal guarantees in controlling the event.
The bill must go through both chambers of Congress before reaching President Dilma Rousseff. But it was a big victory for FIFA and the government, which was under pressure from local critics who say soccer's world governing body has been granted too much power.
Valcke's comments infuriated many Brazilians, but there were those who didn't think he was too far off. Former player Ronaldo, a member of the local organizing committee, agreed with him that the preparations are running late. Romario, another former star turned congressman, concurred.
"It was unfortunate, but it doesn't mean he was wrong," Ronaldo said. "Brazil promised to deliver the World Cup bill, promised to deliver the infrastructure projects, but there is still a lot that hasn't been done."
Valcke had said "things are not working in Brazil" and "not a lot is moving" with stadium building and infrastructure renovation.
FIFA inspectors saw some of the problems up close Wednesday when they visited Beira-Rio stadium, which is expected to host five World Cup matches.
The inspectors found an empty construction site at the venue in southern Brazil because a lack of financial guarantees to renovate the stadium ended work eight months ago. Local officials told FIFA the problem is expected to be solved by next week, but if the indecision continues for much longer, Porto Alegre may have to rush to find a new venue to avoid being dropped as a host city.
"We have total confidence that the stadium will be delivered on schedule on Dec. 31, 2013," said Ricardo Trade, an executive director at the local organizing committee. "Porto Alegre is at the same stage as other cities."
The Brazilian government guarantees that construction in most stadiums is on track, but acknowledges there are delays in Cuiaba and the jungle city of Manaus, where only 38 percent of the work has been completed.
Rebelo also said that more than 40 of the 51 infrastructure projects planned for the World Cup in the 12 host cities will be completed in 2013, but it's clear many won't be ready in time for the Confederations Cup.
"The minister is already being more pro-active in his management of the work needed for the World Cup," said Jose Roberto Bernasconi, president of a Brazilian association of architectural and consulting engineering companies.
"It seems he is fully dedicating himself to making sure the local governments pick up the pace where needed. Some projects are not being conducted at the most adequate pace. Some will be ready in time but some won't."
It remains unclear if the northeastern cities of Recife and Salvador will be ready in time to host the Confederations Cup. FIFA will make a decision in June on whether they'll join Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, Belo Horizonte and Fortaleza for the tournament.
The FIFA inspectors are making comprehensive visits to six host cities this week, checking on areas dealing with traffic, security, fan management, commercial partners, marketing, hospitality and media. Last year, the inspection team visited the other six cities. The FIFA team travels to Cuiaba on Friday, Manaus on Saturday and Natal on Monday.
"We should and must work together," Blatter said in his letter apologizing to Brazil on Tuesday. "We have the common goal to organize an extraordinary World Cup in the land of football."
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