MANAUS, Brazil – It's a good thing the mayor of World Cup city Manaus has a sense of humor. Because some of the stuff being said about this historic city deep in the heart of the Amazon jungle is laughable.
Last week, it was England coach Roy Hodgson, expressing misgivings about the city's taxing high heat and humidity.
Then, over the weekend, London tabloid the Mirror turned its guns on what it called "Murderous Manaus," saying "England fans will risk their lives" should they venture to "the crime-ridden hell-hole" to see Hodgson's team play Italy on June 14.
So, Mr. Mayor?
"I don't read the Daily Mirror," Arthur Virgilio responded Tuesday, presenting a picture of reasoned calm to visiting reporters come to see this jungle frontier of football.
As for alligators, well, Britain's Prince Charles visited several times without being bitten, he said. And how bad can the city be if Elton John wants to play in its new stadium?
"I hope no snake hurts him," the major joked.
The disarming humor can't hide Manaus' obvious issues.
The new Arena Amazonia where the United States, Portugal, Croatia, Cameroon, Honduras, Switzerland, England and Italy will play is still a building site. The roof isn't finished. The 42,000 seats, in the yellows and browns of Amazon fruits, aren't all bolted in. The stadium's innards are an alarming mess of muddy puddles, hanging wiring, hammering, dust and unfinished construction.
And that's an improvement.
"If you were here two months ago, then you really would have freaked out," said Miguel Capobiango Neto, who is coordinating World Cup preparations for the Amazonas state government, which owns the stadium.
It was meant to be finished five months ago, but a hold-up in federal funding slowed the work, he explained.
Now the plan is to have the stadium ready for test events in February and March. There'll also be an inaugural soccer +match in January to entertain 10,000 workers who helped build the stadium.
Then, it should be a question of finishing touches and making visitors safe.
The Mirror reported that Manaus saw 945 homicides last year. Capobiango said the number was correct but the year wasn't. It should have been 2011. Beefed up policing has since seen homicides fall to 600 this year, he said.
"We have a lot of things to do. We have a lot of social problems. We have a lot of problems created decades ago," said Virgilio, the mayor.
He said he is working "14, 15 hours a day" to ready the city.
"We want to dazzle the world and we know we can do it," he said.