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Football: As draw looms, World Cup opener Sao Paulo "ready mid-April"

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(GlobalPost/GlobalPost)

Sao Paulo will host the opening match of the World Cup in June, despite a fatal accident meaning the venue will only be ready two months before kick-off, world governing body FIFA said on Thursday.

"We have received information it should be ready in mid-April," FIFA president Sepp Blatter told reporters at Friday's draw venue in Costa do Sauipe, north-eastern Brazil.

"For the time being there is no Plan B," he added.

The Arena Corinthians stadium was the scene last week of an accident which killed two construction workers after a crane bearing a final piece of roofing fell onto the stands, bringing down a section.

The fatal accident was the third to occur at World Cup venues in Brazil, which is racing against the clock to get 12 venues ready for an event that starts June 12.

A police investigation into the Sao Paulo incident continues but Blatter said he was confident the venue -- one of three running behind schedule -- will be ready on time.

"We believe it is a question of trust. It will be done," Blatter said

Brazilian authorities are still investigating the cause of the accident, which came with the giant country already straining to revamp creaking infrastructure.

Aside from Sao Paulo, Curitiba is also running behind schedule and set for February completion while Cuiaba is on course for a late January finish.

Porto Alegre, Manaus and Natal are set for January inaugurations, and the various delays forced FIFA Tuesday to drop an initial firm December deadline for the completion of all 12 venues.

Brazil last hosted the World Cup in 1950 but in those days there were only 13 teams and none of the mass media coverage which accompanies the modern game.

The stadium delays and a pice tag of an estimated $11bn have fomented public unrest and pressure groups have called for public protest of the kind which accompanied last June's Confederations Cup rehearsal.

But former Brazilian legends Thursday vowed their country will host a successful event.

Passion for football

As FIFA readied the 32 balls representing each qualified team to be distributed across eight groups of four in Friday's draw, former champions and 2014 ambassadors Ronaldo and Bebeto insisted Brazil will rise to the challenge.

"Everyone wants to come to the World Cup, where they will see the passion of Brazilians for football," said Ronaldo, who scored both goals in the 2002 final win over Germany.

"A month's delay won't jeopardise things. There is no chance an arena won't be ready -- all will be ready for the World Cup."

Bebeto, 1994 champion with the Selecao, reinforced the same message.

"We have struggled hard to get where we are. And where we are is the result of the struggle and efforts of all Brazilians," said Bebeto.

Friday's draw will follow a ceremony starting at 1 p.m. local time (1600 GMT) and will involve some complex juggling to separate as far as possible teams from the same continent.

But some groups will have to contain two European sides, with the Old Continent having 13 of the 32 qualifiers.

The presence of all eight former champions -- only surprise package Bosnia will be making their debut -- could produce some ultra-tough groups.

Brazil could theoretically face two European former champions in the shape of, for example, France and Italy.

England coach Roy Hodgson indicated where a team plays could be more important than whom they face.

The team drawn second in Brazil's group faces a marathon travel schedule.

After playing Brazil in the June 12 opener in Sao Paulo, that team will then have to fly almost 3,000km to Manaus in sultry Amazonia for their next match.

They would then face a similar haul to equally sticky Recife in the northeast for their third game.

FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke will oversee the draw and he will be joined on stage by eight former star players, including Englishman Geoff Hurst, the only man to score a World Cup final hat-trick.

Also appearing will be 86-year-old Alcides Ghiggia, the last survivor of Uruguay's shock win over Brazil in the deciding match of the 1950 World Cup at the Maracana Stadium.

As well as looking forward to the draw, Blatter also indicated, following a FIFA Executive Committee meeting, that all parties involved, FIFA included, had to ensure respective responsibilities regarding preparations for the 2022 tournament in Qatar.

Controversy has raged over reports of dangerous working conditions in the Emirate and Blatter said he had spoken with the country's leader, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani regarding labor rights, insisting the will existed to deliver good working conditions.

Blatter last month condemned working conditions in Qatar as unacceptable following an Amnesty International report into alleged migrant worker abuse.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131205/football-draw-looms-world-cup-opener-sao-paulo-ready-mid-april