- Associated Press - Sunday, March 16, 2014

CUIABA, Brazil (AP) - Pedestrians tiptoe across a road scarred with deep puddles, piles of gravel and a detour sign. Black oily slush leaves no room for missteps or steering mistakes.

The debris in this small city in western Brazil is part of the grand-scale mess of unfulfilled promises. Unfinished infrastructure projects were supposed to create a new metropolis, with modern roads and a light-rail system to whiz passengers to the city center from a gleaming 21st century airport in time for this year’s World Cup. From the look of things, they won’t be done in Cuiaba - or in the country’s other 11 host cities, where many construction plans are hopelessly behind schedule, or have been canceled.

“This work here that’s right by the stadium, I think they’ll get it finished,” said Atilio Martinelli, who runs a locksmith business near the building site. “It’ll be done poorly and at the last minute, but they’ll at least finish it. But there is no way they’ll finish most of the other projects. It’s going to be a great humiliation for us.”

There was a time when South America’s biggest country seemed like the perfect place for soccer’s showcase event. It is the game’s lone superpower and the home of Pele, its most famous brand. Instead, the country is a logistical mess and bracing for potentially violent anti-government protests like the ones that surrounded a World Cup warm-up tournament last year.

After Brazil was awarded the cup in 2007, politicians promised $8 billion would be spent on 56 airports, subway lines and other projects nationwide, in addition to $3.5 billion for construction or renovation of 12 stadiums for the tournament. Nine of the stadiums are finished, but just seven of the infrastructure projects have been completed with the competition three months away.

- In Belo Horizonte, a planned subway system was scrapped and replaced with bus lines. A new international air terminal was also cancelled.

- In Salvador, another promised subway system was turned over to a private company and work is now scheduled to start after the tournament.

- A new runway was proposed for the World Cup at Rio de Janeiro’s main airport. It is unclear now if it will even be built in time for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

- A monorail system officials promised would revolutionize transportation in the Amazon jungle city of Manaus was hastily nixed late last year after government regulators found it wasn’t a viable project.

Bemoaning the infrastructure problems became as much a national pastime as soccer.

“They started late and have boxed themselves in. Now they have to redouble efforts to finish stadiums, so much of the good stuff gets left behind,” said Victor Matheson, a sports economist at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., in an interview with The Associated Press. What was important gets pushed off, and what’s urgent gets done,” Matheson added.

The World Cup was to have served as a stepping-out party announcing Brazil’s arrival on the global stage.

“The world is going to see a modern and innovative nation,” former Sports Minister Orlando Silva wrote in a 2011 editorial in the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper, just months before he was forced from office amid accusations he took kickbacks. “We’re working to organize the best Cup in history … The country can count on it.”

Instead the construction delays have become an embarrassment for many, stoking public anger over poor public services, the high cost of living and corruption scandals. Many Brazilians now say that even if their beloved soccer team wins the World Cup on July 13, the country will have already lost.

Professor Paulo Resende of Fundacao Dom Cabral, a well-known Latin American business school, said Brazil is far removed from its “euphoria phase” when it was picked as host seven years ago.

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