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Football: FIFA gives Curitiba reprieve

Curitiba has won a last-minute reprieve from FIFA, retaining its status as a World Cup venue despite construction work delays.

FLORIANOPOLIS, Brazil: Curitiba won a last-minute reprieve from FIFA on Tuesday, retaining its status as a World Cup venue despite construction work delays.

FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke said football's governing body had agreed work on the stadium had advanced enough to warrant retaining the Brazilian city.

"Yes, Curitiba will remain as one of the 12 host cities," Valcke told a news conference.

The city had previously missed a series of deadlines -- FIFA dropped an initial deadline of December 31 for all 12 venues after six failed to meet the date.

A double fatality at Sao Paulo, which will stage the opening game, put that venue's pre-event tests back until mid-April.

In addition, there have been three construction deaths at Manaus in the Amazon region and one at Brasilia.

But it has been the Curitiba delays which have posed FIFA a severe headache to the extent Valcke threatened to scrap it from the list altogether.

That would have opened a potential legal minefield of claims over cancelled flights and lost tourist revenue.

On Tuesday, Valcke confirmed Curitiba, one of six cities which hosted 1950 World Cup action, would keep its four matches.

But he warned: "It is essential that the works are maintained at the required levels and that a collective effort by all stakeholders involved in Curitiba continues.

"It is a race against a very tight timeline and will require regular monitoring.

"But we are counting on the commitment made by Atletico Paranaense, the city and the state of Curitiba," Valcke said.

He stressed organisers were in a partnership with FIFA involving "clear commitments" which in FIFA's own case totals $1.4 billion.

Contractors have brought in hundreds of extra workers and the stadium is set for a mid-May finish.

Ricardo Trade, chief executive of the local organising committee, admitted: "There is still much to do but we have always been confident Curitiba will deliver."

FIFA assessor Charles Botta had earlier completed the world body's latest appraisal of the Arena da Baixada site which has been beset by delays after costs rose almost threefold from an initial $60 million.

If the axe had fallen on Curitiba, it would have been a humiliating blow to the football-mad nation, which has also been trumpeting its economic progress over the past few years.

After dropping an initial December 31 deadline for all 12 venues to be ready, FIFA had to scrap the date after six failed to meet it, with Curitiba lagging the worst.

Many Brazilians believe the cost of hosting the tournament has come at the expense of public services large protests marred last year's World Cup finals dress rehearsal the Confederations Cup.

Recent months have seen smaller but more violent protests.

There are fears that those were just a foretaste of what is to come in June when the finals take place.

Curitiba residents are angry at what they say is a lack of transparency on spending.

The stadium was due initially to cost 130 million reais ($65 million).

The stadium's owners Atletico Paranaense initially hoped to fund the venue privately themselves but costs have mushroomed to 320 million reais, forcing local authorities to step in and organise bank loans worth some $30 million.

Local protesters called a march for Tuesday afternoon to slam the rising costs and use of public funds.

Some protesters have marched under the slogan 'There Will Be No Cup' -- and in Curitiba that wish came close to being granted.

Deputy sports minister Luis Fernandes insisted that the stadium was "beautiful" and that lessons had been learned.

But he insisted that Brazil would as a whole benefit from the investments being made in all 12 host cities.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter recently chided Brazil for not starting preparations quickly enough and said it was further behind than any other host in his four decades with football's world body.

The decision over Curitiba has overshadowed the arrival of the coaches of the 32 qualifying nations in the southern city of Florianapolis for a pre-World Cup seminar which will allow them to discuss logistics and assess facilities.

Tuesday's decision vindicated Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's insistence when she met Blatter in Zurich last month that Curitiba would make it.

The highest profile match at the stadium, now 91 percent complete sees reigning champions Spain take on Australia on June 23.

After his January visit, Valcke had issued a blunt message.

He said: "We cannot organise a match without a stadium, this has reached a critical point."

But local organisers redoubled their efforts, bringing more workers in and putting fresh cash in the form of loans on the table to stay in the game.

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