- Associated Press - Thursday, October 20, 2011

ZURICH (AP) - Sao Paulo will host the opening match of the 2014 World Cup and Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium will stage the final, FIFA announced Thursday.

The host nation will kick off the tournament on June 12 at a 65,000-seat arena being built in the Itaquera neighborhood. The decision ended months of speculation over whether Brazil’s biggest city would host the match after concerns about construction delays at the stadium.

All 12 cities will host at least four of the 64 matches, with the final on July 13 at Maracana stadium _ built for the 1950 tournament.

Matches will start at 1 p.m., with some kicking off as late as 10 p.m. All matches in the knockout rounds will kick off no later than 5 p.m.

Five-time champion Brazil can only play in the Maracana stadium if it reaches the final.

In an apparent reversal, FIFA said teams will travel across the vast country as they did at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Eight teams will travel to the isolated Amazon city of Manaus.

Organizers believe the schedule is fairer to teams. They will experience a range of conditions in the southern hemisphere winter _ from the warm north of Brazil to the cool south and humid inland cities versus temperate coastal venues.

Officials had previously suggested they would learn from logistical issues in South Africa by basing four-team groups in one of four clusters to minimize the strain of moving players, fans and officials.

“You can have the best teams, the seeded teams, in all the host cities,” FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said.

Brazil will be under increased pressure to upgrade airports, which likely will be the country’s biggest and most expensive challenge.

Valcke launched the schedule plan Thursday with Ricardo Teixeira, the organizing committee chairman. Teixeira is under investigation at home over alleged kickbacks paid by FIFA’s former marketing agency ISL in the 1990s.

Brazilian federal investigators suspect Teixeira was involved in laundering $9.5 million in alleged kickbacks through a company in Liechtenstein. They have sought Swiss court papers believed to identify Teixeira, which FIFA has blocked from release.

FIFA’s executive committee, including Teixeira, will consider Friday whether the documents should be published as part of President Sepp Blatter’s promised anti-corruption drive.

Also this week, Brazil’s parliament ordered an investigation into Teixeira’s running of the national soccer federation since 1989. Teixeira is unpopular with many Brazilian fans and caused tensions with state President Dilma Rousseff ahead of the qualifying tournament draw in July.

Rousseff sparred with FIFA this month over her government’s delays in passing World Cup laws demanded by FIFA that are favorable to the soccer body and sponsors.

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