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FIFA executive optimistic after World Cup visit

SAO PAULO (AP) — A top FIFA executive doesn't expect the World Cup opener in Sao Paulo to be affected by the construction delays at the stadium where a crane collapse killed two workers last year.

Secretary General Jerome Valcke visited the Itaquerao stadium Monday to begin the governing body's first inspection tour of the year leading to the World Cup in June. He will visit three other host cities before meeting with local organizers in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday.

"In a way I would say the pressure is a little bit bigger here," Valcke said at a news conference at the Itaquerao. "It's the first game. It has to be a success. The world will be watching." He said he was satisfied with the work at the venue and expects there will be enough time for test events after its completion in April. The World Cup begins June 12 with Brazil playing Croatia.

"We will do all that we can to make sure this opening game is a success," Valcke said. The venue was among the six that missed the December deadline established by FIFA for all World Cup stadiums. Brazil promised to deliver all 12 by then but only the six that were used during the Confederations Cup were ready. Four of those had already missed the deadline for the warmup tournament this year.

In November, a crane collapsed while hoisting a 500-ton roofing structure at the Itaquerao, leaving two workers dead and causing significant construction delays. The crane was removed last week but part of the roofing structure remains in place. Local authorities said the stadium is 97 percent completed, with nearly 30,000 of the nearly 70,000 seats already installed.

Valcke met with Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad and was to travel to Cuiaba later Monday to visit the Arena Pantanal. On Tuesday, he is expected to be in the southern city of Curitiba to inspect the Arena da Baixada, one of the most delayed among the six that still have to be delivered.

The trip to Curitiba was not originally scheduled for this week's inspection tour, but FIFA added a stop there after receiving the latest construction report from local organizers. Valcke was initially expected to go to the jungle city of Manaus.

On Wednesday, the Arena das Dunas in the northeastern city of Natal will be the latest stadium to be delivered. Valcke will be there for the inauguration ceremony along with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who will then travel to Zurich for a meeting with FIFA President Sepp Blatter along with Brazil Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo.

Valcke said FIFA has already received nearly 10 million ticket requests for the World Cup, the most for the showcase tournament.

Follow Tales Azzoni at http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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