SAO PAULO Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff hit back on Saturday at criticism voiced by former soccer star Ronaldo over mishandled preparations for the World Cup.
"I am sure that our country will put on the Cup of Cups," Rousseff said in a speech in Brasilia, without naming Ronaldo directly. "I am proud of our accomplishments. We have no reason to be ashamed and we don't have an inferiority complex."
In an exclusive interview with Reuters on Friday, Ronaldo lamented that many infrastructure projects promised by Brazil's government for the tournament were significantly delayed, scaled-down, or canceled altogether, while some stadiums remain unfinished just over two weeks from kick-off.
"It's a shame. I am embarrassed, this is my country and I love it and we shouldn't be transmitting this image abroad," Ronaldo said, who as a member of the Local Organizing Committee is one of the most visible backers of soccer's world governing body FIFA and the Brazilian government.
Ronaldo's comments were re-published on the front page of Brazil's major newspapers on Saturday and received heavy media play, prompting the government to fire back.
Earlier in the day Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo said Ronaldo's comments were tantamount to a "shot against one's own goal," considering the soccer star was heavily involved in the Cup preparations himself.
The government's response comes amid efforts to protect both the nation's image and that of Rousseff herself as she comes up for re-election in October.
While Ronaldo agreed in the interview that criticism levied by FIFA over the Cup preparations were fair, he noted that the event did bring about some improvements in Brazilian cities such as Cuiaba, one of the 12 cities that will host the games.
"I saw cities with many construction projects...who knows how many would have been done in Cuiaba if it weren't for the World Cup?" he said.
(Reporting by Jeferson Ribeiro; Writing by Asher Levine; Editing by Kim Coghill)