Brazil in last-minute rush to be ready for World Cup


SAO PAULO (Reuters) - With just over a week to go before the World Cup kicks off, Brazil is racing to get its stadiums, airports, roads and phone networks ready before hundreds of thousands of football fans descend on the country.

Airports in nearly all 12 host cities are swarmed with construction workers laying parking lots, installing check-in counters and kicking up clouds of dust with long-delayed expansions.

Workers at several stadiums are still struggling to set up cell phone networks that can withstand tens of thousands of smartphones. Temporary bleachers in Sao Paulo's stadium, which will host the opening game on June 12, have still not been tested under the full weight of fans.

After more than 13 years of intermittent construction, trains are finally making test runs on a metro that will deliver ticket holders to the stadium in the northeastern city of Salvador.

Only about half the projects promised for the World Cup have been delivered and many of those are only partly done, souring the mood in a country obsessed with football but increasingly sceptical about the benefits of hosting the show.

The late rush means most of V

Getting to and from some airports is also a headache as projects meant to smooth the connection to downtown areas are instead snarling traffic.

In Curitiba, 10 miles (16 km) of road to the airport is now a construction zone funnelling cars from four lanes to as few as one, doubling or tripling what had been a 30-minute ride.

A light rail project promised for the World Cup in Cuiaba won't enter service this year, but dozens of workers still swarm the work site where rails pass outside the airport. Driving from there to the city centre can now take up to two hours.

In some places workers have even reversed course, filling in trenches they had dug in order to cover up work sites with squares of grassy sod.

Determined to highlight signs of progress, Rousseff has inaugurated a series of high-profile public work projects, although construction continues on many of them

On Sunday, she celebrated the opening of a $700 million bus corridor across Rio de Janeiro, running from the airport at the north end of town to a booming beachside borough in the south. Only half the stations are open and just two of a planned seven bus lines will be ready in time for the World Cup.

At the expanded airport terminal Rousseff visited earlier in the day, construction was covered over with plywood barriers.

She played down the World Cup connection, saying they are long-term investments. "We're not making airports or projects of this scale for the World Cup. We do it for all Brazilians."

Still, the tournament offered a clear deadline for big transportation programs such as Salvador's metro, which languished for years after work first started in 2000.

Tests on the long-awaited metro line were suspended after a worker died in an accident and service is now set to begin June 11, on the eve of the tournament opener.

(Additional reporting by Stephen Eisenhammer in Rio de Janeiro, Anthony Boadle in Brasilia, Nacho Doce in Belo Horizonte, Rodolfo Buhrer in Curitiba, Bruno Kelly in Manaus and Jose Medeiros in Cuiaba; Editing by Todd Benson and Kieran Murray)

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