Jan. 16--RIO DE JANEIRO -- Sun and soccer usually can be counted on to bring a smile to the face of a Brazilian. But with Brazil's star turn as FIFA World Cup host less than six months away, some Brazilians aren't in a very festive mood.
Hosting the World Cup was supposed to be a source of national pride in this soccer-crazed South American country with five World Cup championships to its credit. But with the opening match -- Brazil vs. Croatia in Sao Paulo -- now a fast-approaching reality, preparations have fallen behind on many fronts.
Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA -- soccer's international governing body -- told the Swiss newspaper 24 Heures last week that he isn't too pleased with what he's been seeing.
"Brazil has just realized what it means to organize a World Cup," Blatter said. "They started way too late. It is the country which is the furthest behind since I've been at FIFA and moreover, it's the only one that had so much time -- seven years -- to prepare itself."
Blatter's comments have some questioning whether Brazil should have been awarded the tournament.
"I don't think this is a good time for Brazil to have the World Cup," said Flavio Borges, a 33-year-old systems analyst from Rio. "Brazil needs to have political reform and economic reforms, and then maybe one day we could have the World Cup.''
Frustration over a transit fare hike in the southern city of Porto Alegre in March mushroomed into massive nationwide protests in the middle of the year against corruption and Brazil's decision to build soccer palaces when it wasn't providing quality public healthcare, education and decent transportation.
"When we don't have the basics, we can't have" a World Cup, Borges said.
During the World Cup final draw ceremony in Bahia in early December, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff promised "this will be the World Cup of all World Cups -- a World Cup that no one will ever forget.''
And she implied it couldn't be any other way because " futebol (soccer) is in the heart of each and every Brazilian.''
Etelvina Lustosa, 34, a tour guide at the landmark Christ the Redeemer statue that towers above Rio, thinks Brazil will be ready -- but barely.
"Brazil is the type of country that pushes forward with its belly and gets things done at the last minute,'' she said, thrusting out her stomach to emphasize her point. "Brazil is a very rich country but it lacks management.''
She's impatient with public transit that doesn't reach neighborhoods where many people live, trash in the streets, lack of progress on preventing mudslides and flooding when it rains heavily and traffic snarls that make it hard to get around.
"I see a lot of frustrated tourists,'' who sometimes wait in line for up to four hours to see the Christ statue, she said. The problem, according to Lustosa, is cars that are allowed to park haphazardly along the narrow road leading to the statue so tour vans can't get through.
But she said she's hopeful that one thing will come shining through during the World Cup: "The joy and goodwill of the Brazilian people toward receiving tourists."
Meanwhile, the country has some daunting problems and delays to overcome before it is ready for World Cup prime time from June 12 to July 13.
Stadiums in six of the 12 cities that will host matches missed a Dec. 31 FIFA deadline for completion. After a crane being used to assemble the stadium roof at the new Corinthians Stadium in Sao Paulo toppled, killing two workers in November, FIFA set a new deadline of late February for delivery of the arena. But some analysts expect it will miss that date, too.
Work also was briefly suspended in December on the Amazonian arena in the city of Manaus, where the U.S. team will play, after a fatal construction accident. A workers' union contends there have been dozens of accidents as laborers race to finish the behind-schedule stadium. Omar Aziz, governor of Amazonas, denied workers are being forced to rush to meet deadlines and said safety must come first at the site.
No stadium is main reason for one location, but authorities have decided to delay major airport renovations for another city until after the World Cup, opting for an improvised tent terminal.
SITA is working with CISCEA in its drive to upgrade Brazil's air traffic management technology. The project began in December 2013 and is progressing as planned.