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Apr 22, 2014

Jerome Valcke tours Itaquerao stadium

The Frenchman said he had "no concern" about the Beira-Rio Stadium, which is not yet ready for next summer's tournament.

SAO PAULO -- FIFA's top World Cup official visited the stadium that will host the tournament opener in less than two months and said there is "not a minute" to waste.

FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said Tuesday there's still a lot of work to do at the Itaquerao stadium, but stressed that it will be ready for the opening match between Brazil and Croatia on June 12.

He said local organizers are "running against time," but they know there is "no choice" and understand they have to meet their promise to finish all the work in time. There is only one FIFA-scheduled test event planned for the stadium before the opener, and it won't even happen in front of a full crowd.

At the beginning of his latest tour of host cities, Valcke said there are "potential issues" with two other stadiums, one still being built in the southern city of Curitiba and the other in nearby Porto Alegre.

Valcke visited Curitiba later Tuesday and said there is "still lots to do inside and outside" the Arena da Baixada stadium. He was not happy that 27,000 seats were yet to be installed and said it's crucial the venue is finished in time for a test event on May 14.

"We have to make sure all is working on the 14th of May because there will be no other choice," Valcke said.

The other stadium yet to be completed is the Arena Pantanal in the wetlands city of Cuiaba, where officials said Tuesday that the official inauguration will not happen this weekend as scheduled because of a delay in the delivery of some 5,000 seats. The venue's opening should happen in mid-May. Valcke will be in the city on Wednesday.

"There is not a single minute we can waste, because there is still a lot of work to do to," Valcke said after checking the construction work at the Itaquerao. "We are running against time, but yes, the stadium will host the opening game and, yes, we will organize the opening game and all the other games in this stadium."

There will be five other World Cup matches in Sao Paulo, including one of the semifinals.

The FIFA test event at the Itaquerao is a Brazilian league match on May 17 or May 18, about three weeks before the opener. Only 50,000 tickets will be sold even though the opener will hold nearly 70,000 people. FIFA usually wants three test events at venues used in tournaments such as the World Cup.

"I can tell you that it will be a very tight schedule over the next weeks in order to be ready for the opening game, and more important, to be ready on time for us to test the stadium," Valcke said.

Before the FIFA test, Corinthians is expected to host other minor events. A match between construction workers will be played on May 1 for about 10,000 people, and an exhibition between Corinthians teams from past and present is planned for May 10 for about 20,000 fans.

Work at the Itaquerao was significantly delayed last November after a crane collapse killed two workers. Earlier this year, another accident killed one of the workers helping install the 20,000 temporary seats that will be needed for the opener.

"It's clear to us that there is a lot of work to do and that we can't waste a minute," Sao Paulo vice mayor Nadia Campeao said. "It's a tight schedule but it's all doable."

Local officials promised that most of the infrastructure work needed near the stadium will be completed in the next few weeks, although there was still a lot to be finished.

FIFA wanted all 12 World Cup stadiums ready by the end of last year, but only the six used in the Confederations Cup were ready.

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