Brazil have much to prove as hosts as the countdown to the 2014 FIFA World Cup begins this Saturday with the Confederations Cup, a prelude tournament one year from the main event.
As doubts persist over Brazil’s preparedness, the facilities and organization will be under scrutiny. But most critically for the world’s grandest and most successful football nation, the team must deliver results.
The ‘Samba Boys’ would normally be heavy favorites on home turf, but a run of just two wins in six games – following indifferent results at major tournaments – has seen their FIFA ranking drop to a record low of 22. Recent matches have been accompanied by boos from supporters, and legend Pelé recently attacked the team for having “no structure, no harmony”, and branded star forward Neymar an “ordinary player”.
Although stakes are lower than at major tournaments, Brazil face testing opposition in the winners of the six confederation championships plus Italy (Euro 2012 runners-up). Spain are the biggest threat coming off a historic three-tournament winning streak and Barcelona midfield masters Xavi and Andres Iniesta remain the gold standard.
Italy, winners of the 2006 World Cup, also arrive in good form, including a recent draw with Brazil. Latin American contenders Uruguay and Mexico have dangerous forwards despite inconsistent form, while Nigeria, Japan and debutants Tahiti will hope to spring a surprise on the grand stage.
The hosts will at least be spared a clash with Spain until the knockout rounds, and their opening match with Japan offers the opportunity of a solid start. But with time running out, Brazil’s margin for error is disappearing and any false steps could turn nerves into a national crisis. Playtime is over – now it’s all business.