Every four years Brazil’s streets are transformed as the nation hurls itself into World Cup mode. People come together to hang up bunting or paint patriotic murals on walls and pavements. But while there is little evidence that the Confederations Cup will cause a similar mobilisation, that does not mean that this summer’s tournament is being dismissed as an irrelevance.

The notion of an unimportant international competition is foreign to the local mind. Prestige is on the line every time Brazil take the field in a friendly, let alone in a meeting of the champions of all the world’s continents. It is a lesson that national coach Emerson Leao unwisely forgot back in 2001.

Led to believe that the Confederations Cup in Japan and South Korea was of little importance, he took an understrength, highly experimental squad – and was then sacked at the airport after Brazil finished fourth. That, of course, opened the way for Luiz Felipe Scolari to take over and lead Brazil to triumph in the World Cup a year later.

Back in charge and already under pressure, Scolari brought an abrupt end to the post-match press conference following a disappointing 2-2 draw at home to Chile in April. He stormed out when asked if a poor performance by his men in the Confederations Cup would force his resignation.

Put to the test

In Brazil, then, the idea that the competition is not for real is usually greeted with incomprehension. Ticket sales have been solid, with a reported 75 per cent having been snapped up by mid-May. True, for the majority of participants, the whole thing may be little more than a reconnaissance exercise, but the 2013 Confederations Cup is not without validity. The action on the pitch may not be the most important aspect, although the condition of some of the pitches will certainly be of considerable interest. The key thing is the element of test.

Brazil’s organisational, operational and infrastructural readiness will be under the microscope.

This is especially pertinent given the delays and the headaches along the way. “Perhaps I was mistaken,” confessed FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke recently, “to think that Brazil and South Africa were similar, and that the organisation would be exactly the same.”

Whereas the political and sporting leadership in South Africa was dominated by people educated and hardened by the anti-apartheid struggle, much of Brazil, especially its footballing administration, remains in the hands of a bloated, self-serving and inept semi-feudal oligarchy. The fact that for years there was no governmental representation on the local organising committee was clearly a mistake, hampering co-ordinated action. “It has taken time for everyone to learn to work together,” says Valcke.

This is part of the explanation for the rush to ensure that stadiums are ready in time. Six venues – half of the 2014 host cities – will be staging Confederations Cup games. Some of these grounds – notably in Brasilia, Recife and Rio de Janeiro – have only just opened and badly need to be tested. And across the country, crowd control procedures need a dress rehearsal.

Sadly, there are few advances in urban mobility to be given a dry run – and this is an area where the 2014 legacy will clearly fall well below potential. But plenty of attention will be given to the capacity of Brazil’s airports to cope with passenger demand – an issue which has long been seen as the weakest point of the 2014 project.

Many Brazilians are clearly concerned at the risk of having some of their country’s problems held up for global examination. “We’re not prepared to take criticism from foreigners,” said one TV presenter. “We just get offended.” But, timidly this year and in greater number next, the world is coming.

For good things and bad, there will be no hiding place.

Schedule

Group A

15.06.13 Brazil v Japan (Estadio Nacional, Brasilia)

16.06.13 Mexico v Italy (Maracana, Rio de Janeiro)

19.06.13 Brazil v Mexico (Castelao, Fortaleza)

19.06.13 Italy v Japan (Arena Pernambuco, Recife)

22.06.13 Italy v Brazil (Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador)

22.06.13 Japan v Mexico (Mineirao, Belo Horizonte)


Group B

16.06.13 Spain v Uruguay (Arena Pernambuco, Recife)

17.06.13 Tahiti v Nigeria (Mineirao, Belo Horizonte)

20.06.13 Spain v Tahiti (Maracana, Rio de Janeiro)

20.06.13 Nigeria v Uruguay (Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador)

23.06.13 Nigeria v Spain (Castelao, Fortaleza)

23.06.13 Uruguay v Tahiti (Arena Pernambuco, Recife)
Semi-finals

26.06.13 Winner Group A v Runner-up Group B

(Mineirao, Belo Horizonte)

27.06.13 Winner Group B v Runner-up Group A

(Castelao, Fortaleza)
Third place play-off

30.06.13 (Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador)
Final

30.06.13 (Maracana, Rio de Janeiro)

 

By Tim Vickery