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"It is unlikely that guests at the five-star Hotel Santa Teresa in Rio de Janeiro were thinking about the World Cup when masked gunmen burst into their rooms in the middle of the night and robbed them last week.

But for the rest of the world, the news again focused attention on whether Brazil is ready to host Fifa's flagship event in 2014, two years before the Olympic Games come to Rio.

The Fifa limousine will roll into Rio today for the qualifying draw, the first big event in the build-up to what could be the most colourful, exciting World Cup in history in surely the most famous football country in the world. Before England discover who they must overcome to join the party, there will be a pop concert in the beautiful Marina da Gloria, an upmarket harbour next to the city centre offering views of the iconic Sugarloaf Mountain across Guanabara Bay. Zico, Ronaldo and Neymar will represent three generations of Brazilian football talent. Attention will be drawn to a city and country blessed with astounding natural beauty, an irresistible football culture and a people who are disarmingly friendly and generous.

But away from the razzmatazz, skulking in the shadows, remain the three issues that threaten to ruin the fiesta: safety, stadiums and infrastructure. Brazil feels like a country poised for greatness, while flirting with ignominy. "

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