Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
World Cup trial run kicks off today
Brazil determined to sort out any glitches at Confederations tourney
It says something about just how monstrous the FIFA World Cup has become that they have to stage a trial run for the competition a year before the first ball is kicked.
The Confederations Cup, as the dress rehearsal is known, begins today in Brazil with the host nation entertaining Asian champions Japan at the glittering new Man© Garrincha Stadium in Braslia (1:30 p.m., CBC).
The six stadiums being used for the competition (also in Belo Horizonte, Fortalenza, Recife, Rio de Janeiro and Salvador) were mostly completed well in advance of this event, with only Rio's Maracan£ pushing up against the deadline.
And while construction at several of the six other grounds being prepared for the World Cup will have to speed up considerably to comply with FIFA's December delivery date (notably those in Manaus and S£o Paulo), local organizers will be more concerned with working out other, more practical, kinks over the next couple of weeks.
For example, on Thursday the media co-ordinators forgot to enlist the services of a translator for a major press conference. In the grand scheme of things it wasn't a major blunder, but it would certainly have been much more of a problem had it happened ahead of a World Cup match.
Then there is the transportation infrastructure.
Very few foreign fans have travelled to Brazil for the Confederations Cup, but if they're planning to make the journey in 12 month's time they'd do well to localize their experience lest they plan on spending considerable time and money getting from one city to another.
Brazil is a big country. The distance from the Amazonia outpost of Manaus in the northwest to the Rio Grande do Sul metropolis of Porto Alegre in the southeast is nearly 4,800 kilometres (think Winnipeg to Houston, Texas and back to Winnipeg), and travel from one to the other -- nevermind between the three or four cities a particular team will be playing in over the course of the tournament -- will simply not be practical.
The Brazilian government will also be keeping a close eye on how its domestic population, which isn't exactly used to such a sudden influx of foreigners, will handle the tourists and reporters who do make the trip to the Confederations Cup.
Already there have been government-sponsored training programs set up to help everyone from hotel staff, taxi drivers and stadium stewards provide as comfortable an experience as possible for visitors, and competition-specific security strategies will be put to the test as well.
As for the soccer, a roster of continental heavyweights and a famous host nation should ensure the product on the field is compelling, perhaps even more so than what we'll see a year from now when anxiety and the magnitude of the occasion make things rather more cautious.
Confederations Cup notebook
-- There are two groups of four. Group A: Brazil, Italy, Japan, Mexico. Group B: Nigeria, Spain, Tahiti, Uruguay.
-- Due to a dispute over bonuses, the Nigerian team missed their flight to Brazil and quite nearly pulled out of the tournament, only for the row to be resolved at the last moment. They'll kick off their schedule against Tahiti on Monday.
-- Tahiti will be relying heavily on the Tehaus. Brothers Lorenzo, Alvin and Jonathan Tehau are all midfielders for the Oceania champions and their cousin, Teaonui Tehau, will line up as a striker.
-- Work is still going on in and around the Maracan£ to ensure the stadium is ready to host Italy and Mexico on Sunday. On Saturday FIFA president Sepp Blatter tried to allay concerns, saying "I have seen worse situations."
-- Brazil come into the competition ranked 22nd in the world, an all-time low.
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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 15, 2013 C7
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