Dilma Rousseff, the president of Brazil, has claimed that her country is ready to host the World Cup, which starts tomorrow, despite delays which have plagued the preparations, and defended the heavy investment in the tournament, insisting that there would be lasting benefits.
The run-up to soccer’s showpiece has been characterised by overrunning stadium projects and protests over the perceived high level of spending on venues and infrastructure at the alleged expense of public services, including transport and health.
Last-minute work is being carried out at the new Arena de Sao Paulo, the venue for the opening ceremony and the first match between Brazil and Croatia on Thursday.
In a national television address on Tuesday, Rousseff admitted that organising the World Cup had presented challenges but argued that these have been met ahead of the tournament.
She said: "Brazil overcame the main obstacles and is ready on and off the pitch for the Cup. The pessimists… have been defeated by the hard work and determination of the Brazilian people, who never give up."
The World Cup has cost Brazil an estimated $11 billion but Rousseff said it was a "false dilemma" that public services had suffered as a result and reiterated that the infrastructure "won’t leave in suitcases along with the tourists" after the tournament and would benefit the population in the future.
Recent surveys in Brazil have shown growing disillusionment with the country’s hosting of the World Cup but the authorities will be hopeful that the start of the competition itself and a strong performance by the home team will raise morale.
Rousseff said: "For any country, organising a [World] Cup is like playing a game, sweating and often suffering, with the possibility of extra time and penalty kicks. But the final result and celebration are worth the effort."
The president, who is due to stand for re-election in October, has seen her popularity tumble as concerns over the cost of the World Cup have mounted and did not attend the start of the Fifa Congress in Sao Paulo yesterday, with Brazilian sports minister Aldo Rebelo taking her place
The World Cup organisers will be relieved that a strike by metro workers in Sao Paulo has been suspended although the union has warned that industrial action will resume tomorrow if its demands are not met.