Rio de Janeiro - Fifa secretary general Jerome Valcke insisted on Monday that Brazilians still wanted to host the World Cup but said organisers needed to give “100 percent” to finish the stadium holding the opening match.
“Headlines are screaming that Brazilians don't want the World Cup. This is not reflected in public opinion polls nor by what we have witnessed on the ground in Brazil,” Valcke said in a statement released soon after he arrived in the country to oversee final preparations for the June 12-July 13 tournament.
He cited a poll by British research firm Sponsorship Intelligence that found 57 percent of Brazilians, a country of 200 million people, were “very excited” about the World Cup, and said the more than 11 million ticket requests so far were unprecedented in the tournament's history.
His first stop on a tour of all 12 host cities was the new stadium in Sao Paulo, which will host the kick-off match between the hosts and Croatia.
The stadium is still partly under construction after repeated delays and accidents that killed three workers.
It held a test event Sunday at just over half capacity that was marred by malfunctioning elevators, spotty cell phone coverage and an unfinished roof that left some fans exposed to a drenching rain.
Valcke sought to pressure organisers to get the venue ready for the opening ceremony and match.
“Arena de Sao Paulo still needs 100 percent from everybody to guarantee necessary structures are in place for opener,” he wrote on Twitter.
Valcke, Fifa's top task-master for host country preparations, has had a rocky relationship with Brazil.
The Frenchman caused uproar two years ago when he was quoted as saying that Brazil needed a “kick up the backside” to get ready in time.
Valcke and Fifa supremo Sepp Blatter later apologised.
Fifa originally demanded Brazil have all 12 stadiums ready for December 31, but deadline after deadline has passed unmet.
Valcke said Monday all stadiums would be handed over to Fifa 21 days from their first matches, starting with Sao Paulo's on Wednesday and ending with the stadiums in Curitiba, Natal and Salvador on Thursday.
He also sought to downplay protests by Brazilians angry at the more than $11 billion being spent on the tournament.
“There's no doubt: 'Vai ter Copa'“ - there will be a Cup - he said, inverting one of the slogans chanted by protesters, “There won't be a Cup, there will be a strike!”
One million people took to the streets during last year's Confederations Cup, a World Cup warm-up tournament, calling for money spent on the two events to be redirected to urgent needs in education, health care and transport.
The movement has since shrunk in numbers but grown more radical, and there are fears the mass protests, which turned violent at times, could erupt again during the World Cup.