Spotlight falls on Brazil for Confed Cup
The first of three major international sporting events in Brazil begins next month, with football's Confederations Cup pitting three former world champions, including the hosts, against the current title holders, Spain, and outsiders Mexico, Nigeria, Japan and tiny Tahiti.
But the traditional curtain-raiser to the most-watched sporting event on the planet -- next year's World Cup -- will be watched as much for the action off the pitch as on it.
Brazil has been beset by delays in the construction of venues and key supporting infrastructure, straining relations between local organisers and the sport's world governing body FIFA and raising fears about the World Cup and the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
"The legacy of the World Cup will not be the one we hoped for," the head of the national union of engineers and architects, Jose Roberto Bernasconi, has said.
"But Brazil has started working and the main thing is that the work will be ready one day, because it goes beyond these events and is being done for Brazilians."
The Confederations Cup, which kicks off on June 15, for the first time involves three former world champions -- the hosts, beaten Euro 2012 finalists Italy and Copa America winners Uruguay -- as well as the current World Cup holders and double European champions, Spain.
Also playing are CONCACAF champions Mexico, Africa Cup of Nations winners Nigeria, the holders of the Asian Cup, Japan, and the Oceania champions, Tahiti.
All three events are designed to showcase the South American giant's recent economic and political progress.
A succession of problems, however, has cast a shadow on the country's ability to complete massive infrastructure projects, with most running behind schedule, including the venues themselves.
The Confederations Cup is scheduled to be played at six grounds: in Rio de Janeiro, the capital Brasilia, the northern cities of Salvador de Bahia, Recife and Fortaleza, and Belo Horizonte, in the southeast.
But only Belo Horizonte and Fortaleza were completed within the stipulated FIFA deadline of December last year.
The mythical Maracana stadium in Rio -- where some 200,000 people watched Uruguay beat Brazil in the 1950 World Cup final -- and those in Salvador and Recife were only finished last month.
The stadium in Brasilia will only be inaugurated on May 18.
Commentators have seen the two-and-a-half year renovation of the Maracana as an example of the problems facing the emerging economy.
The cost of the project was $560 million (432 million euros, Â£365 million) -- nearly double the initial estimate -- while the issue of who will operate the venue in the years to come has been caught up in legal wranglings.
Some 350,000 Brazilian and foreign fans are expected to follow their teams during the Confederations Cup, with 600,000 supporters predicted to arrive from outside the country for the World Cup.
With double the number of host cities, though, there is concern that hotel capacity is not increasing fast enough and about steep price hikes that have made some rooms more expensive than in London, Paris or New York.
Air travel is essential in a country the size of Europe but the quality of Brazil's airports is troubling many.
Modernisation is under way, with increased capacity for aircraft and passengers as well as more staff.
The government has admitted, though, that work will not be finished in time for either the Confederations Cup, the World Cup or the Olympics.
Communications could also prove a stumbling block. The government has pushed mobile phone operators to implement fourth generation (4G) networks in host cities for the Confederations Cup.
But few will have access and the existing 3G network is still patchy.
Some 3,000 police, 5,000 armed forces personnel and 2,000 private security agents will be deployed for both football tournaments, with plans bolstered since the bomb attack on the Boston Marathon.
Efforts are also continuing to fight drug trafficking in Rio and clearing crime-ridden favelas or shanty-towns.
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