RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – For Brazil, there was really no other choice as honorary ambassador for the 2014 World Cup than Pele, the country's greatest ever player.
A day before Saturday's qualifying draw, the government introduced Pele in the role.
''We want to learn from a man who has been through 12 World Cups,'' Brazilian Sports Minister Orlando Silva said. ''Pele represents how the world sees Brazil. We want him to be the face of the World Cup.''
Silva said Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff picked Pele to represent the country because of his dedication to promoting Brazil and its football across the world.
''I've been representing Brazil since I was 17 years old in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden,'' Pele said. ''I'm proud to have received this invitation and I'm honored to have the obligation to laud Brazil's name.''
Pele played in four World Cups as a player - winning three of them - and also participated in other eight with different roles. He was a member of the Japanese organizing committee for the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea and also was active in the 1994 World Cup preparation and promotion in the United States.
''I accepted this because I want the entire nation to come together so we can have a great World Cup here in Brazil too,'' he said.
FIXING AIRPORTS: Brazilian Sports Minister Orlando Silva told FIFA President Sepp Blatter that upgrading Brazil's airports remains the biggest challenge in the country's preparations for the 2014 World Cup.
''I told him that we know what we need to do to get the country ready for the World Cup,'' Silva said after meeting Blatter onFriday.
Organizers and FIFA said they are not worried with recent delays in stadium construction, but poor airport infrastructure and transport within cities remained a concern.
OK WITH 12: Organizers defended their choice of sharing the 2014 World Cup around 12 host cities, saying the entire country will benefit from holding matches.
There had been concerns voiced about the high number of host cities because of the size of Brazil and inherent transportation challenges. About 600,000 visitors are expected to arrive in 2014.
There will be matches played from the southern city of Porto Alegre all the way to the jungle city of Manaus and on the vast tropical wetland of Pantanal, near the city of Curitiba.
''Other nations have already come to FIFA with 12 cities,'' Brazilian football president Ricardo Teixeira said. ''The entire world has an interest in the Amazon and in the Pantanal. The entire country will be taken over by the World Cup.''
ANOTHER DRAW: Rio de Janeiro officials are eager to host the final World Cup draw, along with Saturday's qualifying draw.
Saturday's draw - which decides who plays who in qualifying around the globe - is expected to be seen by about 600 million people in more than 100 countries across the globe, organizers said.
However the main event will be the draw of the eventual 32 qualifiers into groups for the World Cup itself, and Rio officials believe a successful event on Saturday should deliver that too.
Mayor Eduardo Paes dismissed concerns that the nearly $20 million being spent to organize the draw could've been better used to help improve the city for its citizens.
''The benefits for the city are greater than what we are spending because of the exposure that the Rio is getting abroad,'' Paes said.
Tales Azzoni can be reached at http://twitter.com/tazzoni