CUIABA, Brazil - 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."
This Jan. 10, photo released by Portal da Copa shows an aerial view of the Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba, Brazil. Brazil isn’t alone among nations whose preparations for the Cup came under fire. South Africa, the last host, had serious security problems and delivered many works related to the tournament at the last moment. But Brazil is in worse shape, with FIFA President Sepp Blatter saying earlier this year that the country was further behind than any host he had dealt with during his four decades at the world governing body, despite having more time to prepare.
There was a time when South America's biggest country seemed like the perfect place for football'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 football.
"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.