Sao Paulo stadium may not be ready for 2014

Builders are threatening to halt construction on Sao Paulo's new World Cup stadium within weeks because of a dispute over financing, a move that could throw next year's global football tournament into disarray and embarrass the government.

The "Itaquerão" stadium on the eastern edge of Brazil's largest and richest city is slated to host the World Cup's opening match in June 2014 - an event meant to showcase the country's arrival as a major economic power.

Yet in the latest of several problems plaguing preparations for the event, and a sign of broader issues with big infrastructure projects in Brazil, the companies building Itaquerão have yet to receive a promised 400 million reais ($200 million) loan from state-controlled banks.

The builders say they will stop construction soon unless the banks drop their demands for additional financing guarantees.

A delay could, in turn, force the government and world football body FIFA to push the World Cup's opening match to a different city, find an alternate stadium for games in Sao Paulo - or in a worst-case scenario, leave the city totally out of the World Cup.

"There's a risk of work stopping or [the stadium] not being ready on time," said Andres Sanchez, former president of Brazilian football club Corinthians, which with local building partner Odebrecht has been financing construction of Itaquerão for the past two years.

Red-faced and smoking incessantly while downing one coffee after another, Sanchez made a series of colorful statements meant to convey just how serious that risk is in an interview with Reuters on Wednesday at the half-finished stadium site.

Some observers say he is bluffing and using the media to try to pressure the banks, and President Dilma Rousseff's government, to accept less stringent terms for the loans.

Sanchez, who has been put forth by the companies as an unofficial spokesman in recent months, indicated that he believes a last-minute agreement is possible, even likely. But he rejected the notion that he is making empty threats.

"I'm not going to pay for you to hold a party," he said. "This isn't a technical problem with construction... we've put forth several [guarantees], but the bank wants more, so we have this impasse."

With an estimated construction cost of 820 million reais, the stadium is certainly expensive to build without public financing. It will have a permanent capacity of 48,000 people - and 20,000 more temporary seats for the World Cup - plus a video screen that will be even bigger than the famous one at the Dallas Cowboys' stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Asked when he would stop construction, Sanchez declined to provide a date but said it would happen within weeks.

OPENING MATCH ELSEWHERE?

Itaquerão is hardly the only World Cup venue with problems.

FIFA has expressed concerns over delays at several stadiums in the 12 Brazilian host cities, especially the venue for the final in Rio de Janeiro. Several transport projects related to the World Cup, such as a train link at Sao Paulo's domestic airport, have also been plagued by problems and won't be ready until after the tournament is over.

Many Brazilians believe the venues will be ready on time, citing other recent World Cups and Olympic Gam