Brazil leader hails World Cup as a success

BRASïLIA (AFP) - Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said the World Cup has been a success but acknowledged the host country's football team needs reform after its humiliating elimination from the tournament.

"We were able to do the Cup even though they said it would be chaos," Ms Rousseff told foreign correspondents at the presidential residence Friday night. "They said it would be horrific."

The buildup to the tournament was marked by delays in the construction of stadiums while many public infrastructure projects were scrapped.

Last year, the warmup Confederations Cup was overshadowed by massive and sometimes violent protests over the record US$11 billion (S$13.6 billion) spent on the World Cup, with Brazilians demanding better schools, hospitals and public transport.

But the World Cup, which ends Sunday with the Argentina-Germany final, took place without major incidents or disruptions while protests drew small crowds.

"It would have been serious for my government if we had lost off the pitch," said Ms Rousseff, 66, who is seeking re-election in October.

She lamented the national team's historic 7-1 defeat to Germany in Tuesday's semi-final, which sunk Brazil's dream of winning a record-extending sixth title in front of home fans.

She said Brazil can "deal with a defeat and move forward."

Ms Rousseff called for a "renewal" of the national sport, like Germany did after it failed to get out of the group stage in the 2000 European Championship.

The leftist leader said Brazil should try to retain more of its stars, who are exported to Europe and other foreign leagues.

"We are the seventh or sixth economy in the world, and we don't have the ability to have high-level athletes here?" she asked.

Ms Rousseff, who was insulted by sections of the crowd during the June 12 opening game, said she would present the World Cup trophy to Sunday's winner at Rio de Janeiro's Maracana Stadium.

Ms Rousseff, who has a strong lead in opinion polls ahead of the election, said the World Cup would have no effect on how people vote.

"There's a tradition in Brazil," she said. "Football doesn't mix with politics."