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Brazil under international scrutiny

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Brazil, the acknowledged King of international football, the fifth largest country in the world, and the country which, after Nigeria, has the second largest population of Black people, is preparing for some of its biggest ever tests.{{more}} As host of next year’s football World Cup and, two years afterwards, the Olympic Games, the eyes of the world are turned to that South American giant as it prepares to welcome the global football community to FIFA’s Confederations Cup, beginning June 15.

That competition, between the official champion teams of each of FIFA’s eight regions, is usually held in the year preceding the World Cup finals, in the country which is to host those finals, thereby enabling the host nation to test its level of preparedness for hosting the big event. In the case of Brazil, that test is doubly more important, given the 2016 Olympics in just three years’ time. Its infrastructure, transport systems, administration and all other related organisational facilities will come under scrutiny.

There are also circumstances peculiar to Brazil and football which give the examination an added edge. Long-time Brazilian football powerhouse and FIFA President for 24 years, Joao Havelange, made Honorary President on his retirement, was forced to resign in disgrace in April of this year, following revelations of massive corruption involving him and his son-in-law, Ricardo Texeira, himself President of the Brazilian Football Federation from 1989 to 2012. The media will be checking to see to what extent Brazilian football has been able to purge itself of such corruption.

But the searching examination will not only be on-field. Brazil has won the World Cup on a record five occasions, and its name is synonymous with dominance in that sport. But next year will be 12 years since it last won the coveted title. In addition, by being hosts, the Brazilians have not been engaged in competitive qualification matches like all other teams, playing only “friendlies”, and it is difficult to judge the competitive edge of a team from such engagements. The expectations of all Brazilians for a sixth triumph places great pressure on the home team.

WORLD CUP

Before we preview the Confederations Cup, it may be useful to cast a glance at how the qualification process for the World Cup 2014 is proceeding. Brazil, as host team, is an automatic finalist, but competition for the other 31 places is intense and beginning to approach the decisive concluding stages.

Europe, as usual, will have the biggest contingent, 13 teams at the finals, reflecting as much the level of professional organisation of the game there as the traditional Eurocentric bias. Winners of the nine groups in Europe go on to Brazil, with the other four teams coming from a play-off between eight runners-up. These will not be finally decided until November.

One team already halfway there is New Zealand, winner in the Oceania region, now awaiting the fourth-placed team from our CONCACAF (North and Central America plus the Caribbean) zone. The CONCACAF fight for the top three places seems to be revolving around Mexico, the USA, Costa Rica and an “upstart” Panama. Caribbean hopes, represented by Jamaica, have virtually dissipated with Jamaica’s recent home losses to Mexico and the USA.

(More, and Confederations Cup preview in next issue)

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