Confed Cup: testing, in every sense

In the end Brazil won it but there were plenty of surprises in the entertaining FIFA Confederations Cup, which acts as a test event for next year’s World Cup.

The USA defeated Spain, who had been unbeaten in 35 matches, and Egypt knocked Italy out of the competition. Media in South Africa were satisfied that the hosts reached the semi-finals.

The Confederations Cup can feel contrived as an event, featuring the champions of each continental confederation plus the World Cup winners and the host nation. Until this year’s event kicked off, few football fans probably remembered that Brazil also won it last time, in 2005.

In fairness to FIFA, it makes sense to have an international tournament a year ahead of the World Cup in the same country. The challenge for the organisers is to sell tickets and drum up interest in matches between unfamiliar teams. After complaints about slow sales, tickets were given away for some matches. Overall the tournament can be judged a success, particularly the exciting action on the pitch. According to FIFA’s assessment, transport and security issues remain to be resolved for the World Cup.

South Africa has hosted plenty of major international sports events since it returned from sporting isolation in 1992, including the Rugby and Cricket World Cups, this year’s Indian Premier League and the current rugby tour by the British and Irish Lions. However, the FIFA World Cup is on a different scale because of the massive attention it attracts virtually all over the world.

As with the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Beijing last year, the significance of the event will extend far beyond the sporting competition on the pitch. The stakes are very high for South Africa and even Africa as a whole in terms of the impact on international image, business opportunities and tourism.

Through hosting the Confederations Cup, South Africa has had to face tough international scrutiny (see, for example balanced pieces in The Times and the Canadian Press). It may not all make comfortable reading for the World Cup organisers but the thorough test has surely been useful at this stage.

After the positive experience of these last two weeks, most observers would be more confident in predicting that next year’s World Cup will be a success than in predicting who will win it.

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