All eyes on world Cup draw

LONDON - Bazil will present its coastal beauty and diversity when the World Cup draw takes place on Friday at Costa do Sauipe in the state of Bahia.

Millions of football fans around the world will have their eyes on the resort near Salvador as anticipation rises for next year's June 12-July 13 tournament.

"It is gratifying that the game and the stars will now take the spotlight after the hard work, occasional difficulties, emotions and even sometimes misdirected criticism during preparations," Fifa secretary general Jerome Valcke said recently.

"The world's largest sporting event is a platform for great opportunities for the host countries, but also for critics as it captures the imagination of billions across the globe."

Football's world governing body has invested about $8 million for the globally televised draw and 90-minute show featuring several Brazilian stars of stage and music, saying it will give fans around the world "a taste of everything Brazil has offer."

Costa do Sauipe will provide a backdrop from a tourist paradise - sand dunes, palm trees, lagoons and the Atlantic Forest and Atlantic Ocean lying side by side -for the showbiz event.

Several of the game's biggest former stars - Pele, Zinedine Zidane and Lothar Matthaeus among them - are lined up to help with the draw while some 5 000 officials, journalists and invited guests will be on hand at the specially constructed venue.

Brazil has been waiting 64 years for a home World Cup after failing to win the 1950 title and when losing the final match to neighbours Uruguay at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

Football Brazil has never forgotten the humbling defeat known as the Maracanazo - but the selecao under coach Felipe Scolari is looking ahead rather than back, hungry for the hexacampeao - a sixth world title.

Demand for the some three million match tickets has been huge. In a second sales stage, 200 000 tickets went in a matter of a few hours although Fifa had set a 17-day deadline.

So far more than a million tickets have been sold after almost 890 000 were snapped up in a first sales phase. Fans will, however, have to dig deep to pay for accommodation, with hotel prices trebling at many venues despite a government pledge not to tolerate exorbitant charges.

Domestic flight prices, the logistics of getting around in the giant country of 200 million people and the likelihood that not all infrastructure projects will be completed on time will also be a challenge.

Fears that stadiums in the 12 venues might also not be ready are no longer as great as a year ago. However, most of the building projects have turned out to much more costly than planned, and last week's fatal crane accident at the Sao Paulo stadium, which will host the opening game on June 12, has again turned the focus on Brazil's readiness to stage the event.

Six stadiums were ready for the 2013 Confederations Cup, even if Rio's Maracana and the Arena Pernambuco in Recife only just made it. But delays had already been affecting the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo, and both it and stadiums in Cuiaba, Curitaba and Manaus are struggling to meet the Fifa handover deadline of December 31.

The biggest worry though for both the Brazilian organizers and Fifa is the disaffection which erupted with violent street protests during the summer's Confederations Cup against price rises and corruption. – Agencies

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