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Brazil welcomes the world to Cup draw
The eyes of the footballing world were focused on Rio de Janeiro on Saturday for the preliminary draw for the 20th World Cup.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter opened the occasion at Rio's Marina, a stone's throw from the Copacabana beach, by noting that "Brazil holds a special place in the world of football".
"We are happy to be back in Brazil because it is now 61 years since the last World Cup was organised in Brazil. We look forward to an exciting World Cup."
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff responded by saying that "Brazil is identified as a country of football and we are proud of that - Brazilian men and women love football."
Although there are lingering concerns as to whether the hosts will deliver the necessary infrastructural improvements in time, Rousseff added: "Our people have many reasons to be proud - Brazil today has a stable and booming economy.
"Brazil is admired for many other reasons apart from football."
Hosting the World Cup, she said, would enable people the world over to see for themselves how far the country has come in recent years.
"Brazil will be ready to dazzle the world in 2014 - we are a warm and generous people."
After an initial draw for the playoff format which will ensue at the end of the marathon two-year process, former Brazil skipper Cafu and young starlet Neymar were preparing to draw the balls for the African qualifying zone - an ultra-complex area which will see three group stages before five qualifiers finally emerge.
Thereafter, 1980s star Zico and current international Lucas were to draw the Asian zone before 1994 champion Bebeto and Felipe Bastos took charge of North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Following them were legendary Brazil coach Mario Zagallo and Lucas Piazon for the Oceania zone.
Then 2002 champion Ronaldo was due to draw the European zone, alongside Neymar's international teammate Ganso, who is one of the host nation's chief hopes for glory in three years' time.
The event will return to Brazil in 2014 for the first time since 1950, when the Samba Stars lost the final to Uruguay before Pele came along and inspired the first of their five triumphs in Sweden in 1958.
In all, some 200 countries will have ploughed through 824 qualifiers for the right to claim one of 32 berths - 31 plus the pre-qualified hosts.
Organising committee chief Ricardo Teixeira insisted Friday the gigantic country would overcome the massive logistical challenge of building new stadiums and revamping old ones such as Rio's mythical Maracana as well as overhauling a creaking airport system in time for the event.
Security is also a huge challenge with hundreds of thousands of fans due to descend on the country from all corners of the globe, but organisers insist they are optimistic everything will go to plan.
But first, the teams have to qualify -- save for the hosts and five-times champions.
Brazil will join France, Germany, Italy and Mexico in hosting the event twice while the tournament will be the second in succession to be held in the southern hemisphere after South Africa 2010.
South America, which has Brazil plus four guaranteed slots for the finals and an extra playoff possibility, last hosted the World Cup at Argentina 1978.
In Europe, there will be 13 qualifiers - nine group winners and four playoff winners.
Asian contestants will scrap for four or five berths, the last one decided through a playoff.
North, Central American and Caribbean (CONCACAF) teams were fighting for three guaranteed plus one play-off berth, while Oceania's best finisher from 11 countries will get a place only via a play-off.
Earlier, authorities closed Rio's Santos Dumont airport, close to the draw arena, and diverted flights to the city's other airport Galeao.
"The draw is being broadcast to 208 countries and transmission equipment is sensitive to the noise. Then there is also the issue of security," the National Civil Aviation Agency (ANAC) said.
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