A view showing the site of the ongoing construction of what will be the new soccer stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Tuesday March 6, 2012. The stadium, expected to seat as many as 65,000, will host the opening match of the World Cup in 2014 on June 12, located in the Itaquera neighborhood. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil and FIFA have put their rift behind them. Now it's time to get to work.
A public dispute brought uncertainty over the country's preparations, but after apologies from FIFA that were formally accepted by the Brazilian government on Thursday, and the approval of a key bill by the nation's Congress, both sides are moving forward.
With two years to go until the World Cup and just more than a year before the Confederations Cup, there are concerns about infrastructure work and stadium construction in some cities.
FIFA inspectors are in the country for a key visit to host cities, checking on progress and working closely with local governments. The team of nearly 40 people from FIFA and the local organizing committee were in the southern city of Curitiba on Thursday.
Things looked bleak only a few days ago, with queries whether Brazil would be able to host the tournament.
It started after FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke sent a blunt message to Brazil on Friday about preparations: "You have to push yourself, kick your arse."
Brazil Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo reacted quickly, saying the comments were "unacceptable, offensive and inappropriate" and telling FIFA that the government would not deal with Valcke anymore.
Valcke apologized on Monday, as did FIFA President Sepp Blatter on Tuesday.
On Thursday, the Sports Ministry said in an emailed statement that Rebelo had sent letters to both Blatter and Valcke, indicating he had accepted their apologies.
The statement didn't explicitly say that Brazil was withdrawing its request to no longer work with Valcke. Calls to the Ministry were not immediately answered.
The statement went on to say that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff would meet with Blatter, but didn't indicate when that meeting would be.
A key sticking point between FIFA and the Brazilian government had been the delay in passing a bill about organizing the World Cup, accepting several demands by FIFA and giving it financial and legal guarantees in controlling the event.
The bill must go through both chambers of Congress before reaching President Dilma Rousseff. But it was a big victory for FIFA and the government, which was under pressure from local critics who say soccer's world governing body has been granted too much power.
Valcke's comments infuriated many Brazilians, but there were those who didn't think he was too far off. Former player Ronaldo, a member of the local organizing committee, agreed with him that the preparations are running late. Romario, another former star turned congressman, concurred.
"It was unfortunate, but it doesn't mean he was wrong," Ronaldo said. "Brazil promised to deliver the World Cup bill, promised to deliver the infrastructure projects, but there is still a lot that hasn't been done."
Valcke had said "things are not working in Brazil" and "not a lot is moving" with stadium building and infrastructure renovation.
FIFA inspectors saw some of the problems up close Wednesday when they visited Beira-Rio stadium, which is expected to host five World Cup matches.
The inspectors found an empty construction site at the venue in southern Brazil because a lack of financial guarantees to renovate the stadium ended work eight months ago. Local officials told FIFA the problem is expected to be solved by next week, but if the indecision continues for much longer, Porto Alegre may have to rush to find a new venue to avoid being dropped as a host city.
"We have total confidence that the stadium will be delivered on schedule on Dec. 31, 2013," said Ricardo Trade, an executive director at the local organizing committee. "Porto Alegre is at the same stage as other cities."
The Brazilian government guarantees that construction in most stadiums is on track, but acknowledges there are delays in Cuiaba and the jungle city of Manaus, where only 38 percent of the work has been completed.
Rebelo also said that more than 40 of the 51 infrastructure projects planned for the World Cup in the 12 host cities will be completed in 2013, but it's clear many won't be ready in time for the Confederations Cup.
"The minister is already being more pro-active in his management of the work needed for the World Cup," said Jose Roberto Bernasconi, president of a Brazilian association of architectural and consulting engineering companies.
The FIFA inspectors are making comprehensive visits to six host cities this week, checking on areas dealing with traffic, security, fan management, commercial partners, marketing, hospitality and media. Last year, the inspection team visited the other six cities.
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