Brazil 2014 will have 12 host cities after all. On Tuesday, FIFA announced that the southern city of Curitiba will not be removed from the tournament and that the four group games scheduled for the city's Arena da Baixada stadium will be go ahead as planned.
Though some had suggested that the decision would go the other way, it always looked unlikely. For a start, it would have been a tremendous embarrassment for the Brazilian government, which had pushed hard for 12 host cities -- indeed, as FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke made clear, the action of the federal government had been fundamental in saving Curitiba from the consequences of its own delays.
- Report: Curitiba remains WC venue
There is also a local dimension. The controversial agreement between FIFA and the World Cup host cities meant that Curitiba would have left themselves open to legal penalties had they not fulfilled the commitments they made when they applied to be part of the 2014 project. The city would have been liable for all of the costs involved in transferring its four games -- Iran vs. Nigeria, Honduras vs. Ecuador, Australia vs. Spain and Algeria vs. Russia -- to alternative venues. Better to spend some money to ensure the World Cup in Curitiba than have to spend money to give up that right.
The much publicised press conference to announce Curitiba's fate was, then, was as Valcke commented at the start, something of a "non-conference, a non-event" -- not least because FIFA had already broadcast on Twitter than the city was safe. He did, however, stress that the city was "definitely late" and announced a new completion date of May 15th, a month and one day before the stadium is due to make its World Cup debut.
In theory this should have been one of the most straightforward of the 12 stadiums. Arena da Baixada is a modern stadium, less than 15 years old, which needs completion and bringing up to scratch. The cost of the work has mushroomed over the past few years, but still at around $136 million, it is the cheapest of the 2014 venues.
There is a complicating factor, though. Most of Brazil's 2014 stadiums are municipally owned, though many of the sparkling new venues are now controversially being run by private companies.
But Arena da Baixada is privately owned. It is the home of the Atletico Paranaense club and already well-aware of the financial limitations of domestic Brazilian football, Atletic are understandably unwilling to overspend. Club president Mario Cesar Petraglia confessed that Atletico had underestimated the costs of getting the stadium up to FIFA's standard.
Bureaucratic problems were also created by the fact that the stadium's private ownership is affecting the flow of loans from the public purse. And suddenly, the stadium that seemed sure to be ready by December of last year was looking unlikely to be ready by the following June.
But heads have been bashed together. Valcke announced that FIFA are happy with three aspects: the financial guarantees that the stadium has presented, the commitment shown by the stakeholders (three levels of government plus Atletico Parananese) and the progress made since the warning sign was switched on three weeks ago.
Time is tight, but Curitiba, a host city in the 1950 World Cup, should be present -- if possibly not 100 percent correct -- when the circus come back to town 64 years later.