Kind words save FIFA's relationship with Brazil

TALES AZZONI AP Sports Writer Published:

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) -- Kind words were all it took to get FIFA and Brazil back on the same page.

Just two weeks after a public spat raised concerns over the 2014 World Cup, FIFA President Sepp Blatter ended a "short but important visit" to Brazil, easing tensions and re-establishing good rapport with the host country.

With a smile on his face, Blatter shook hands with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and gave her a gift -- an old framed photo of the duo alongside Pele. In return, Brazilian congressmen took the FIFA official to a traditional Brazilian lunch.

It was a harsh contrast to the last exchange between FIFA and Brazil, one that started with Secretary General Jerome Valcke crudely saying the host country needed to speed preparations and ended with the local government wanting to cut ties with the FIFA official.

When it was all done after a cordial meeting Friday, everyone seemed happy again. The FIFA president left the country saying he was satisfied with the World Cup guarantees given by the local government, while Brazil got some of the respect it had demanded.

"Back at the airport in Brasilia, only 21 hours after we landed," Blatter posted on his Twitter page just before leaving Brazil early Saturday. "Short but important visit!"

Both sides said the "constructive" meeting in the nation's capital will help Brazil move forward with the World Cup and the Confederations Cup, which is just more than a year away. Blatter said he and Rousseff were so satisfied they agreed to meet more often in the coming months.

Whether both parties have indeed gotten past their differences is unclear, but the harmonious front alone is an encouraging change.

Pele, who participated in Friday's meeting as a World Cup ambassador, said the encounter was important to help clear the air between the Brazil and soccer's governing body, putting "misunderstandings" and "mishaps" in the past.

The Brazilian soccer great said he doesn't mind working as a "firefighter" from now on if needed, saying both sides can "count on him."

Still unsettled is Valcke's role. He was supposed to be the FIFA representative responsible for working closely with the local government, but that was put on hold after Brazil complained of his "unacceptable" remarks. Valcke's inspection visit to Brazil a few days ago was canceled, and FIFA said a decision on rescheduling it would be made only after Blatter met with Rousseff.

But Blatter said Friday he still doesn't know what he will do. He said the problem with Valcke was not discussed in detail with Rousseff and the matter was going to be resolved by FIFA alone.

"Could you give me the time to (find) a solution," Blatter said.

Brazil officially accepted the apologies from Valcke, but government officials were not hiding their preference of having someone else from FIFA dealing with the government.

What pleased Blatter most during his visit was word Brazil's Congress is committed to passing a bill regulating the World Cup. The proposed law is important because it gives FIFA the financial and legal guarantees to organize the showcase event. He was reassured by legislators during lunch at the House leader's home.

One issue that worried FIFA was the sale of alcohol inside stadiums, which is against the law in Brazil but is demanded by soccer's governing body because Budweiser is a major World Cup sponsor.

The bill is expected to be voted on by the lower House next week. The Senate then must approve it before it reaches Rousseff for her signature.

"Brazil is the country of football," Blatter said. "It's time they showed to the world, after 1950, when they organized the last World Cup, the capacities of this country."

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