Brazil to kick off Confederations Cup in key World Cup test

Brazil to kick off Confederations Cup in key World Cup test

BRASILIA – Agence France-Presse
Brazil to kick off Confederations Cup in key World Cup test

Laborers perform renovation works on the surrounding area of Maracana stadium, one of the venues hosting the upcoming Confederations Cup, in Rio de Janeiro. Six Brazilian cities are hosting the Confederations Cup, a test for 2014 World Cup. REUTERS photo

After months of angst over preparation delays, Brazil steps into the global spotlight Saturday when it kicks off the Confederations Cup, a key test of its readiness to stage the World Cup next year.

Six Brazilian cities: Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza, Recife, Rio and Salvador are hosting the two-week football tournament, expected to attract some 355,000 Brazilians and foreign tourists.

Brazil, winner of the previous edition in South Africa in 2009, has this year dropped to a new low of 22nd in the rankings of world football’s governing body FIFA.

The Selecao is given little chance of lifting the trophy this time around. The other contenders are current World Cup holder and European champion Spain; European vice-champion Italy, South American champion Uruguay; CONCACAF champion Mexico; Africa champion Nigeria; Asian champion Japan; and Oceania champion Tahiti, very much the minnows. June 15’s opening game in Brasilia’s Mane Garrincha pits the Brazilians, five-time World Cup winners, against Japan.

For the young Brazilian team coached by wizard Luiz Felipe Scolari and led by Barcelona-bound rising star Neymar, the tournament offers a chance to get experience and confidence for next year’s bigger prize. The average age of the squad is 26 years and six months.

In two recent warm-up matches, the host drew 2-2 with England in the inaugural match at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium and beat France 3-0 in Porto Alegre.

But beyond the teams’ football prowess, world attention will focus on whether Brazil is really ready to honor its pledge to stage the best World Cup ever next year.

“The Confederations Cup helps up prepare the World Cup,” Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo told reporters Thursday. “If all goes well, if security, transport, airports, surveillance go according to plans, I will be happy,” he added.

“With joint efforts by all the parties, we will arrive on time, although naturally with some concessions with respect to deliveries,” FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke said.

No toleration

But he also warned that such delays would not be tolerated for the World Cup, for which all stadiums must be completed by December.

Despite $15 billion in government investment for the Confederations Cup and the World Cup, the country still faces logistical shortcomings. Organizers have been struggling to complete the construction or renovation of the six host arenas, hobbled by repeated delays due to strikes, roof collapses and other problems.

Four of the stadiums were delivered to football’s world governing body FIFA behind schedule. And in the northeastern city of Salvador last month “a human error” caused part of the roof of the brand new Arena Fonte Nova to collapse following heavy rains.

“I think that some issues will be solved at the last minute,” FIFA President Sepp Blatter told a press conference in Rio June 13, commenting on the delays in delivering Rio’s iconic Maracana arena. That stadium will host a Mexico-Italy game on June 16.

Rebelo told the same press conference that although the six host stadiums for the Confederations Cup were delivered behind schedule, they were tested and “ready” for the tournament.

Infrastructure problems, with congested airports, soaring air traffic and inadequate urban mobility facilities, are another major headache. There is also concern about the skyrocketing housing, restaurant and transport prices in several major host cities.

Rio hosts both the Confederations Cup and the World Cup -- in addition to a visit by Pope Francis next month. It is now the world’s third most expensive city when it comes to hotels, according to a recent Brazilian Tourism Board study. Rebelo vowed “zero tolerance” of price gouging.

“We are not going to allow the hotel industry to take advantage of sporting events to overprice...If necessary, we will activate the federal police, the entire State control apparatus,” he warned.