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FIFA takes final look at Brazilian host cities

The Associated Press

SAO PAULO (AP) -- FIFA is beginning its final tour of World Cup host cities before soccer's showcase event.

With kickoff less than 20 days away, the governing body is having one last look at the cities' preparations across Brazil.

FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke starts the second half of his inspection tour to the 12 host cities Monday. He visited six cities last week and will tour the others through Thursday.

It is the last time Valcke is expected to check on the host cities before the World Cup gets underway with Brazil playing Croatia on June 12.

FIFA's tour takes place as Brazil's national team begins practicing in Rio de Janeiro on Monday and as Australia becomes the first team to arrive for the World Cup on Wednesday.

''We're very close now,'' Valcke said. ''Soon we're going to hand the tournament over to the players and the 32 teams. There is very little left to worry about. We just need to make sure the teams arrive safely and get to their training centers so they can begin preparing for the tournament.''

Valcke begins his final trip in Rio de Janeiro, which will host the World Cup final at the Maracana on July 13. He will then travel to the jungle city of Manaus and the northeastern cities of Fortaleza, Natal, Recife and Salvador.

Valcke will be checking on the stadiums and on infrastructure work done by the cities to make sure they are ready to properly welcome the thousands of visitors coming for the tournament.

The visits will be short and focused on technical aspects, especially related to the temporary structures still being installed in each venue to accommodate the media, sponsors and technical teams.

Brazil had seven years to get ready for the World Cup, but chronic delays in stadium construction and infrastructure work significantly affected the country's preparations. Half of the stadiums were not finished by the end of last year as FIFA wanted, and there is work still underway nearly everywhere as the tournament approaches.

''The World Cup isn't just a big event for FIFA, it's also hugely important for Brazil,'' Valcke said.

The secretary general began the final tour of host cities by visiting the most troubled venues last week.

The first stop was in Sao Paulo, where the delayed Itaquerao remains unfinished before the high-profile opener. Delays at the 70,000-capacity venue forced FIFA to allow a test event to be held there just 11 days before the match.

''If the opening match wasn't going to be held at the stadium, then perhaps we wouldn't organize another test event,'' Valcke said. ''But it's vital that we know everything is working properly. We don't normally allow games at stadiums during the FIFA exclusive use period, but we changed the rule so we could test the temporary seating.''

Valcke praised the work done in most of the venues he visited last week, including the southern city of Curitiba, which was nearly excluded from the tournament earlier this year. But he warned about the progress in nearby Porto Alegre, where he said there was a lot ''yet to be done'' and ''we cannot waste a single minute, otherwise the quality for fans (and) broadcasters will be jeopardized'' during the World Cup.

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