The World Cup trophy was on show today at the unveiling of the Brazil 2014 match schedule in Zurich (Getty)

(WFI) FIFA has awarded Sao Paulo the Brazil 2014 World Cup opener, ending months of speculation that South America’s largest city would be overlooked to stage the prestigious game because of stadium financing and construction troubles.

FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke revealed details of the match schedules for the 2014 World Cup and 2013 Confederations Cup at a ceremony in Zurich on Thursday that was staged for Brazilian TV.

Sao Paulo’s 65,000-seater Itaquerao Stadium, currently being built for Corinthians, will host the opening match featuring Brazil at 5pm local time on June 12, 2014. Other group stage games are slated for 1pm, 4pm, 7pm and 10pm.

Sao Paulo will also stage one of the semi-finals, with Belo-Horizonte holding the other. Both will be played at 5pm.

Rio’s iconic Maracana Stadium is the destination for the World Cup final at 4pm on July 13.

In contrast with South Africa 2010, Valcke said that only one game would be held on the first day; two were staged on the opening day of the 2010 World Cup.

Valcke, who revealed that 57 versions of the match schedule had been discussed by organisers before arriving at an agreement, also said teams will not be based only in one city during the group stage but must travel around the world’s fifth largest country.

He said this was “to make sure host cities have the chance to have all the best teams”.

But this marks a major U-turn from FIFA’s stance last year and will not please fans, who might now expect to fork out thousands more dollars to follow their team at the tournament because of the additional flights involved.

Last year, Valcke had claimed the World Cup could be divided up into four clusters of venues for group games, a move specifically aimed at limiting travel times and reducing costs for fans.

The four-cluster concept was a key element of Russia’s successful bid for the 2018 World Cup. Could this now be scrapped?

In FIFA’s evaluation report on Russia’s bid published last November days, before the host city announcement, transport was highlighted as high risk. Even with the “cluster” concept, which matches up relatively close cities, the distances involved were considered “very long” and the country’s transport infrastructure inadequate.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter was also at the ceremony that wrapped up the first day of the FIFA Executive Committee’s two-day meeting.

His reforms were not part of Thursday’s discussions with Ex-Co colleagues. They are on tomorrow’s agenda.

Relief in Sao Paulo
Rumours had circulated since the preliminary draw in July that Brasilia or Rio could get the 2014 World Cup opening match because of concerns over Sao Paulo’s stadium project getting off the ground.

Sao Paulo’s World Cup leader Gilmar Thaddeus

Brazil 2014 organising committee president Ricardo Teixeira (Getty)

has lobbied hard, assuring Teixeira and FIFA that the city will deliver on its pledges for the 2014 tournament.

But with work only starting on the stadium in recent months, it won’t play a part in the 2013 Confederations Cup.

Commenting on the selection procedure for the match schedule, Brazil 2014 president Ricardo Teixeira today explained that tournament organizers and FIFA looked at the economic potential of cities and their stadium plans.

“We must also see where football was born; it was born in Sao Paulo… and the final couldn’t happen anywhere else but Rio,” he said.

The 2013 Confederation Cup will be staged in four to six cities. Valcke announced that Fortaleza, Rio, Belo Horizonte and Brasilia are confirmed, with Recife and Salvador possible hosts if their stadia projects are on track. A final decision is scheduled next summer. The opener is in Brasilia and the final in Rio.

The 64 matches of the World Cup will be played in 12 cities.

Ongoing delays with stadia and the sluggish modernisation programme for the country’s outdated airports infrastructure continues to concern FIFA.

But Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff has insisted work on nine of the stadium projects for the World Cup will be completed next year.

Airports on Schedule, Says Brazil’s Aviation Boss
Brazil’s secretary of civil aviation today said airport upgrades are “perfectly on schedule” ahead of the World Cup and 2016 Olympics.

“Some of them will be ready before then,” Wagner Bittencourt told reporters during a Thursday conference call, “but the deadline for the last airport to be completed is December 2013.”

The football finals are more dependent on a robust transport infrastructure than the Rio Summer Games, but both FIFA and the IOC are keeping a close watch on the massive renovations underway throughout the host country.

FIFA is keen to take greater control of World Cup preparations and sent Valcke to Belgium earlier this month for the first of what’s expected to become a series of crisis talks with Rousseff.

At the top of her plan to speed up the overhaul is the sale of Brazil’s airports to private companies via a system in which airport authority Infraero maintains up to 49% of capital stock.

Bittencourt said this concessions process is underway with high interest already evident from both domestic and foreign investors.

Upwards of $3 billion is expected to be spent on airport improvements in the run-up to the mega-events.

Rousseff has also claimed that work is underway to upgrade six of Brazil’s
airports for the World Cup and Olympics. Other contracts are to be
awarded shortly for the development of five other airports.

By INSIDER editor Mark Bisson and Matthew Grayson

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