Football: FIFA moment of truth for Curitiba Cup venue

RIO DE JANEIRO - More than two months after extending a deadline for all 12 World Cup stadiums to be ready, FIFA is set to reveal on Tuesday if Curitiba will be retained as a venue for the June event in Brazil.

The coaches of the 32 qualifying nations are gathering from Tuesday in the southern city of Florianapolis for a pre-World Cup seminar which will allow them to discuss logistics and assess facilities.

But the key issue hovering over the proceedings is whether all 12 venues will actually make it to the starting line.

Other than protests over the huge cost of staging the event, preparations have been beset by construction delays. There have also been six fatal accidents at the venues of Manaus, Sao Paulo and Brasilia.

Sao Paulo will host the June 12 opening match between the hosts and Croatia - but the laggardly progress made by Curitiba is currently the prime source of concern.

FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke, already back in Brazil to take in visits to Manaus, Brasilia and Porto Alegre, said on his last visit in January that Tuesday would be D-day for the 40,000-capacity Arena da Baixada. On that occasion Valcke demanded signs of real progress by Tuesday ahead of expected stadium delivery in late April or early May.

Two weeks ago FIFA said "Valcke believes that Curitiba is moving in the right direction." Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff promptly insisted she was "sure" that Curitiba would make it.

The stadium, now 91 per cent complete, according to owners Atletico Paranaense, is slated to stage four group matches during the tournament, including Australia versus reigning champions Spain on June 23.

Valcke himself will not go to Curitiba on this visit with FIFA assessor Charles Botta to determine if the venue has made sufficient progress to stay in the game. The state government said last week it was in the process of arranging a US$25 million loan from Brazil's development bank to complete construction assuming FIFA gives the green light. After his January visit, Valcke said bluntly: "We cannot organise a match without a stadium, this has reached a critical point."

"Not only is it very behind in its construction, but it has failed to meet any of the deadlines set by FIFA."

Yet even as Valcke expressed those reservations, FIFA president Sepp Blatter, after meeting Rousseff in Zurich, predicted: "There won't be any problem. In the end, everything will be fine in Brazil."

Jose Maria Martin, president of Brazil's Football Confederation (CBF) weighed in by declaring he was "absolutely certain" Curitiba would make it.

But that optimism has not prevented speculation in the Brazilian media that FIFA has already earmarked Porto Alegre as a standby host if Curitiba ultimately comes up short.

Having praised Manaus to the rafters during his weekend visit, Valcke on Monday batted away all speculation on what the final decision will be.

"As announced many times, decision on Curitiba will only happen on 18 Feb," he tweeted. "Rest pure speculation by people who just want to create rumours."

Also in the headlines Monday was the venue of Cuiaba, amid reports that fire damage last October has affected the stability of the Arena Pantanal.

Minister for Sport Aldo Rebelo said local prosecutors had called for an "independent" report on the venue to confirm a constructors' initial report that the fire had not compromised the stadium's structural safety.