Brazil to open Confederations Cup vs. Japan

December 1, 2012, 3:11 PM

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

SAO PAULO, Brazil — Host Brazil will play Japan in the opening match of next year’s Confederations Cup, while world champion Spain will debut against Uruguay.

Brazil will also play Italy and Mexico in Group A of the tournament among continental champions. Saturday’s draw in Sao Paulo also pits Tahiti and the yet-to-be decided winner of the African Cup of Nations alongside Spain and Uruguay in Group B.

The eight-team warm-up tournament, which helps the host country test some of its 2014 World Cup preparations, will be played June 15-30 in six Brazilian cities.

The opener is in the capital Brasilia and the final at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil, again under the command of Luiz Felipe Scolari, has won three Confederation Cup titles, including the last two in 2005 and ’09. Mexico, CONCACAF’s Gold Cup winner last year, is the only other participating team to have won the tournament — in 1999 in a final against Brazil at home.

The winner of the African Cup of Nations will be known in February.

Despite only eight nations participating, there was a temporary mix-up during the draw when Uruguay was wrongly put in the third position in Group B. FIFA Secretary Jerome Valcke showed surprise when a subsequent ball was allotted the same third place, before Uruguay was moved to the correct second slot of Group B.

Four teams had already been allocated to their groups ahead of the draw. Brazil and Spain were the seeded teams, while Italy and Uruguay were distributed in advance to avoid matchups from teams of the same continent in the first round.

Brazilian supermodel Adriana Lima and leading chef Alex Atala assisted Valcke during the draw at a convention centre in South America’s biggest city.

FIFA was upbeat because more than 130,000 tickets for the Confederations Cup have already been sold little more than a week into the pre-sale phase, opened only for purchases made through the credit card company sponsoring the event. Less than 10,000 tickets had been sold at the same stage in South Africa in 2009.

The rest of the tickets for next year’s tournament will go on sale on Monday.

FIFA gave Brazil a big vote of confidence by allowing the tournament to be played in six host cities despite some concerns with the pace of preparations in some venues. Recife and Salvador were ratified less than a month ago after showing FIFA they would be ready in time for the competition.

It’s the first time FIFA has accepted having the stadiums ready less than six months before a tournament of such magnitude. Only the stadiums in Belo Horizonte and Fortaleza are expected to be ready by the end of this year, which was the initial plan for all six venues.

"We have the mission to win the Confederations Cup on the field, but we also have the obligation to be victorious off the field," Brazil President Dilma Rousseff said. "We are preparing to organize an extraordinary Confederations Cup. We will show the world in 2013 that Brazil has all the conditions to host the 2014 World Cup, and that it will be the best organized and the most festive of all time."

A few protests were scheduled to take place across Brazil at the same time of the draw to complain about the series of government concessions made in favour of FIFA.

FIFA said it doesn’t expect Brazil to be fully ready by next June and that the Confederations Cup will not serve as a full-scale rehearsal of the World Cup itself, which is expected to attract 500,000 international visitors.

"It’s a question of trust and confidence when the World Cup is going to a country," FIFA President Sepp Blatter said. "The football community, they trust and they are confident with the organization of Brazil. I am convinced that FIFA is behind you. Thank you for the wonderful organization that I’m sure you will deliver for the game, for the world, for Brazil."

Sao Paulo will not host Confederation Cup matches because of delays in deciding on a stadium project. The city will get the World Cup opener in 2014.

Brazil will also host the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

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