Sports

6 stadiums ready for Confederations
Cup

Ready or not, the warm-up for next year's World Cup — the Confederations Cup — begins in a month at six stadiums across Brazil.

It will be the first major international football tournament in this vast South American country since the 1950 World Cup. Many will be watching to see if Brazil can handle this modest eight-team tournament, and then the full focus will turn to next year's 32-team World Cup.

Six new or renovated stadiums are in various states of readiness for the Confederations Cup. Six additional ones will be used for next year's World Cup, and none is ready yet.

"We're 30 days away from the Confederations Cup," Ronaldo said Thursday.

The former three-time FIFA player of the year, who serves as the face of next year's World Cup, wants the focus to shift from delays in building stadiums, roads and airports to the upcoming action on the pitch.

"I think no one thinks we will not have stadiums by then (next month)," he said. "It's a certainty the stadiums will be ready. Now we need to change the focus. ... It's a moment to talk about the competition itself."

The Confederations Cup, which opens June 15 in the capital Brasiia with Brazil facing Japan, should give local organizers a respite from criticism and questions about all the money being spent. With luck, the final on June 30 at Rio's Maracana stadium might see Brazil win the title — it's won the last two — and give the country a lift heading into next year.

The field has top quality — Brazil, Spain, Italy, Uruguay, Mexico, Nigeria, Japan — and Tahiti. The tiny Pacific-island nation comes as the representative of the Oceania confederation, and no one is expecting much.

FIFA announced Thursday that only 13,077 tickets have been bought tickets for the Nigeria vs. Tahiti match on June 17 in Belo Horizonte, where the stadium seats about 62,000.

Overall FIFA says 640,635 tickets have been sold, or 76 percent.

The most popular match so far is Mexico vs. Italy on June 16 in Rio's Maracana stadium with 66,000 sold.

FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke, who made inspection visits to three stadiums this week, has spent much of his time in Brazil praising local organizers — and then prodding them publically to work faster.

Earlier this week he threatened to take the World Cup away from Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city, because officials said the new stadium could not be ready by Dec. 31, FIFA's deadline for all 12 stadiums to be ready. A day later he said he reached an agreement to get it done. And on Thursday said it was a handshake deal, not a signed one.

"Brazil, with a lot of work and with a lot of — sometimes tension, good times, bad times — we have succeeded in keeping six host cities, which was the goal," Valcke said. "Just that is already a success."

Valcke has pointed out several times that FIFA was forced to pull one of the host cities of the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa, Port Elizabeth, just months before the tournament.

Brazil has been under the spotlight for moving too slowly, and many wonder why 12 stadiums are needed for the World Cup. Two cities in particular — Manaus in the Amazon region and Cuiaba in the southwest — are getting stadiums but do not have any teams in Brazil's top league.

Jose Maria Marin, the president of the Brazilian Football Confederation, was asked by a reporter why a dozen venues were needed — and whether they would become "White Elephants."

"It will all depend on the creativity, the imagination of the owners and the operators of these stadiums," Marin replied. "It will depend on the imagination of each leader."

Brazilian sports minister Aldo Rebelo said a large country needs a large World Cup, and shook his right finger as he defended the stadium projects.

"These are stadiums for football, but they will also be centers for sports and non-sports events," he said. "They have commercial space and they will host shows, congresses, conventions, fairs that are very important for these cities."

He said the country need to expand from its base in the southeast, where Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are located.

"Brazil is a huge country," he added. "How could you have a World Cup in Brazil that excludes 60 percent of our territory — excluding the Amazon region. It cannot be played only in the south, it has to be played in the cradle of our identity, our culture."

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Follow Stephen Wade at http://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP

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