BRASILIA: FIFA on Monday marked the 500-day countdown to the 2014 World Cup by warning Brazil that it cannot afford any further delays in venue preparation.

The South American country has been hit with problems in developing stadia, hotels and airports as it prepares to host sport’s top-two events in the World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. Brazil will host the Confederations Cup in June and FIFA has twice agreed to push back the handover deadline for four of the six stadiums to be used for the tournament.

A new delivery deadline has been set for April 15 and FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke said this will not be further extended. “We cannot go beyond this date,” he said, according to Reuters. “There cannot be any further delays. All the stadiums must be ready by then.”

The centrepiece of the World Cup, Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium, is said to be causing the most concern. The iconic stadium is undergoing a US$450 million redevelopment, but is only 80% complete and will not meet its February deadline. The venue will stage the final of both the Confederations Cup and World Cup and is now unlikely to be ready until the end of May.

Recife’s stadium is the other venue causing concern and contractor Odebrecht has said it is only 83.6% complete.

Sunday witnessed a small landmark for Brazil’s preparations as the Castelão Stadium in Fortaleza, the first of the World Cup stadiums to be completed, held its first matches – a doubleheader in the northeastern Copa do Nordeste.

“From the commitment we received from local authorities and the Brazilian Government through the Sports Ministry, we are confident that all stadiums will be delivered on time,” added Valcke. “However, we must work on the surroundings of the stadiums and public transportation, which is something we have all been discussing with the host cities.”

In other news, FIFA signed an agreement with Brazil’s communications ministry on Monday committing Brazil to add cell phone antennas and other communication systems around the 12 World Cup stadiums. “There will be a 4G level of communication all around the country,” said Valcke.

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