SAO PAULO (AP) – Brazil was granted permission by FIFA on Thursday to host the Confederations Cup with six venues as originally planned.
Football's governing body said the northeastern cities of Salvador and Recife will be part of the World Cup warm-up tournament next year. Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, Belo Horizonte and Fortaleza will also host matches.
FIFA had previously announced the six cities as hosts, but said Recife and Salvador would only be ratified if they showed significant improvement in their preparations. They had until this month to convince FIFA that their stadiums would be ready in time for next year's competition.
The Confederations Cup will be played June 15-30 among the six continental champions, the World Cup winner and the host team.
Getting the venues ready is seen as the first big test of Brazil's capacity to prepare for the 2014 World Cup, and FIFA's decision confirming all six cities in the tournament came as relief to local organizers.
But despite confirming the cities, FIFA said there is still reason for concern. It will be the first time the organization will accept having the stadiums ready less than six months before a tournament of such magnitude. Only the stadiums in Belo Horizonte and Fortaleza will be ready by the end of the year, which was the initial plan for all venues.
''It's a huge challenge, the timeframe is very tight,'' FIFA communications director Walter De Gregorio said. ''In a way we are very happy we found a solution, but we have to make it clear that we are still concerned because we were not able to have stadiums ready as it was planned from the beginning.''
Gregorio said FIFA ''would be much more relaxed if all six stadiums could be delivered in December,'' but the decision was made after all parts evaluated the risks of having the venues ready later than expected.
''Today is a point of no return, there is no way back,'' Gregorio said. ''There is no `Plan B.' But if we weren't convinced that the stadiums would be ready for tests events April 15, these stadiums would not be announced today. We are 100 percent convinced that together we can deliver.''
It will be the first time the Confederations Cup will be played in South America and in six venues in the same country.
FIFA said two factors were taken into consideration in FIFA's decision to allow the six cities to host matches - technical reports on the venues and political commitment from the local government. The venues had to be set now because tickets will go on sale on Nov. 21.
''The timelines from FIFA's point of view in some stadiums that are delayed can't be respected (as usual),'' FIFA marketing director Thierry Weil said. ''We have to work with an extreme tight timeline. But given the local commitment we are confident that even with this tight schedule we can make it.''
Brazil Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo said Thursday's announcement showed FIFA's confidence in the work being done by local authorities.
''All six Confederations Cup stadiums will be ready and the government will continue its effort to make sure Brazil overcomes the challenge to deliver a successful World Cup,'' Rebelo said.
The biggest concern was with Recife, which was forced to bring forward its final construction deadline by 10 months after FIFA said it wanted the city in the Confederations Cup. The 46,000-seat Arena Pernambuco, which will host five World Cup matches, was 52 percent completed in July but improved to 70 by the end of October after local organizers significantly expedited the pace of construction.
FIFA usually wants the new venues ready six months before the competition begins so at least two test events can be completed.
With FIFA's decision on Thursday, Recife avoided repeating the disappointment of other venues that didn't get to participate in previous Confederations Cups. It happened to Kaiserslautern in Germany in 2005 and Port Elizabeth in South Africa in 2009.
Seven teams have already secured their participation for this year's tournament: Asian champion Japan, CONCACAF Gold Cup winner Mexico, South American champion Uruguay, World Cup holder Spain, European runner-up Italy, Oceania champion Tahiti and host Brazil. The African Cup of Nations winner will be known in February.
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