WCup countdown reaches 500-day mark
The countdown to the 2014 World Cup reached the 500-day mark on Monday as hosts Brazil are making progress on all fronts after a stuttering start.
However, there is also no time to rest ahead of the June 12, 2014, opener as a lot of work is left to be done - and the tune-up event, the Confederations Cup, is just around the corner starting on June 15.
But Jerome Valcke, general secretary of the ruling body Fifa, is upbeat as he started yet another tour of the host country and the 12 venues on Sunday.
"We have entered the finishing straight in our preparations for these extremely important events in the home of the five-time world champions," Valcke said.
The relationship between the Frenchman and the hosts was not always good, as he effectively became persona non grata with the proud Brazilians after he told them in 2012 they needed "a kick up the backside" to speed up preparations.
Now Valcke is convinced that "great times are coming" and local organisers and contractors seemed to have settled in, true to the tournament motto "all in one rhythm."
"I am very excited to be able to experience these special moments personally in Brazil," Valcke said.
They will also include the official 500-day celebrations on Monday in the nation's capital Brasilia where the official World Cup poster will be unveiled.
First Valcke was set to watch the first test matches Sunday in the just-completed stadium in Fortaleza, one of two arenas which are completed, the other being in Belo Horizonte.
Sports minister Aldo Rebelo said that four others are to follow by April, including the iconic Maracana in Rio de Janeiro which has seen several delays in its complete overhaul, and the remaining six until the end of the year.
Modernisation of airports and urban transport system seem to create more problems, and some of the 50 planned programmes in this area around the World Cup have either been scrapped or reduced to a smaller scale.
Rebelo said that 80 per cent of the so-called "mobility works" are either ready (20 per cent) or in progress (60 per cent).
This shows that a lot has happened in Brazil since the 1 000-day mark on September 16, 2011.
Apart from that, Rebelo replaced Orlando Silva in late 2011, long-time Brazilian football supremo Ricardo Teixeira resigned, national icon and honorary World Cup ambassador Pele underwent hip surgery while World Cup top scorer Ronaldo joined the organising committee in Decfember 2011 and later lost 17 kilos.
The most important sports news of the period was the replacement of national team coach Mano Menezes after yet another failure to get the elusive Olympic gold in 2012, with the 2002 World Cup winner Luiz Felipe Scolari back in charge of the Selecao from which the whole country will demand a sixth title in the Rio final on July 13, 2014.
"We have an obligation to win, we are playing at home," Scolari said after his November appointment.
And just as World Cup preparations are still ongoing, Scolari has little more than a year to improve the team which is currently ranked a dismal 18th in the Fifa rankings - the next test being on February 6 at Wembley against England for which he has recalled veterans like Ronaldino and goalkeeper Julio Cesar.
"We are not favourites right now but we intend to turn ourselves into favourites during the tournament," Scolari said.