Curitiba keeps its World Cup games but pressure still on to be ready in time

Curitiba constructionBy Andrew Warshaw
February 19 - Brazil's World Cup organisers are breathing a sigh of relief after FIFA gave the host venue of Curitiba a deadline-day reprieve by announcing that local authorities had done just about enough to warrant retaining its status.

But FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke warned the city faced a race against time and that progress had to continue at the "highest pace" in the remaining four months before the tournament begins.

Valcke has long insisted that FIFA had no plan B for moving games away from Curitiba as a result of severe construction delays but there had been growing fears that the four group games scheduled for the Arena da Baixada may have to be switched elsewhere.

Half the 12 World Cup cities missed an initial December 31 deadline but Curitiba was the worst affected and risked being scrapped entirely unless it could prove by February 18 that sufficient progress was being made.

Thousands of fans have already paid for tickets, flights and accommodation and Valcke confirmed the city would now keep its four games (Spain-Australia, Iran-Nigeria, Honduras-Ecuador and Algeria-Russia) after being assured that scores of extra workers were being drafted in to complete renovation, the cost of which has tripled, my mid-May.

Yet he warned: "It is essential that the works are maintained at the required levels and that a collective effort by all stakeholders involved in Curitiba continues. It is a race against a very tight timeline and will require regular monitoring. We are counting on the commitment made by Atletico Paranaense, the city and the state of Curitiba."

If FIFA had pulled the plug on Curitiba, home of top-flight club Atletico Paranaense, it would have represented a humiliating blow to Brazil's World Cup organisers and somewhat of an embarrassment to world football's governing body. FIFA president Sepp Blatter recently chided the country by saying he could not remember any host that had been further behind schedule.

"The special committee instigated by Brazil's Ministry of Sports following an emergency meeting on January 21, consisting of representatives of Atletico Paranaense, the state of Parana and the city of Curitiba, has managed ... to develop a comprehensive recovery plan which includes the solving of the financial challenges involved," FIFA said in a statement.

"Based on the financial guarantees now provided by the local authorities and Atletico Paranaense for the stadium works including the complementary structures, as well as the latest assessment from the technical experts of the Local Organising Committee, FIFA and the federal government, Curitiba was reconfirmed as a venue of the 2014 FIFA World Cup."

Brazil's World Cup build-up has been beset not only by construction delays but by a series of often violent demonstrations linking the huge budget for the tournament to lack of decent public services and hikes in transport costs.

The decision to give the green light to Curitiba came as the coaches of the 32 finalists gathered in the southern city of Florianapolis for a briefing on logistics and facilities.

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