Spotlight moves away from WCup as Brazil grieves


SAO PAULO (AP) -- The 500-day mark to the 2014 World Cup was marked Monday with FIFA President Sepp Blatter leaving soccer aside and offering support to Brazilians mourning the death of more than 230 people in nightclub fire a day earlier.

The focus moved away from Brazil's preparations for June's Confederations Cup and the sport's showcase event next year as the tragedy in the southern city of Santa Maria dominated news.

After FIFA and local organizers canceled Monday's events celebrating the 500-day countdown to the World Cup, Blatter sent a letter to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff lamenting the tragedy and expressing condolences to the families of the victims.

"Although words can do little to comfort the pain and anguish being suffered in your country at this moment, I would like you to know that the football family is thinking of the Brazilian people at this sad time," Blatter said in the letter.

He said he hoped soccer will help Brazilians recover from the tragedy.

"Our game is here to support people who are suffering through the hope and positive emotions it brings with it, and to carry them through these dark days," Blatter said.

The nightclub fire, the world's deadliest in more than a decade, occurred in Santa Maria, about 155 miles from World Cup host city Porto Alegre, in the same state of Rio Grande do Sul.

FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke was in Brazil inspecting construction work in the capital of Brasilia, which will host the Confederation's Cup opening match on June 15.

"Today is a very sad day for Brazil," Valcke said.

Valcke planned to visit the northeastern city of Salvador on Tuesday and is expected to inspect work at Rio de Janeiro's Maracana Stadium on Wednesday.

The unveiling of the official World Cup poster was postponed by two days until Wednesday after a meeting of the local organizing committee in Rio de Janeiro.


AP Sports Writer Tales Azzoni in Rustenburg, South Africa, contributed to this report.