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Football | Brazil

Jerome Valcke © Reuters Images

Brazil play Japan in Confed Cup opener

Hosts Brazil will face Japan in the opening match of the Confederations Cup on June 15 next year in Brasilia following Saturday's draw in Sao Paulo.

After their curtain-raiser against the Asian champions Brazil will face CONCACAF champions Mexico and then four-times world champions Italy, Euro 2012 runners-up, in their pool matches.

World champions Spain are in Group B along with double world champions Uruguay, Oceania champions Tahiti and whoever wins the Jan 19-Feb 10 Africa Cup of Nations.

The intercontinental showpiece, a dry run for the 2014 World Cup which Brazil will also host for the first time since 1950, runs to June 30, when Rio de Janeiro will host the final at the Maracana stadium.

Fifa president Sepp Blatter lauded Brazil for the giant country's efforts on readying its infrastructure for both events with six venues staging the Confederations Cup and 12 the World Cup.

Although Fifa has at times been critical of the country's efforts, in recent months the game's world body has been more conciliatory and Blatter, noting the country last staged a World Cup in 1950, struck a positive tone.

"A lot has changed in this country since 1950," said Blatter, noting that "it is a question of trust and confidence" to hand organisation of a major event to a country.

"Now, Brazil has developed - not only in their culture but also in their economy. We are very happy to be in a country which is the sixth economy in the world."

And he assured listening Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff that "Fifa is behind you."

Rousseff responded by saying Brazil would seek to win on the pitch and off.

"Winning is a mission in itself - but we also must win beyond the stadiums by putting the organisation in place. The venues will be ready," she insisted.

"We are certain that we have prepared things properly in order to hold an outstanding sports event and in June 2013 we will show we are in a position to hold the upcoming World Cup.

"We will make the World Cup the most organised and most joyful," added Rousseff.

The eight-nation Confederations Cup brings together four former world champions in reigning top-ranked side Spain, five-times winners the Brazilians themselves, four-time champions Italy and Uruguay, inaugural world champions in 1930 and then 1950, when they beat their hosts in Rio.

Whereas the hosts, under re-appointed Luiz Felipe Scolari, their 2002 World Cup winning coach, see the event as a dress rehearsal for 2014, Blatter said ahead of the draw the meeting of continental champions is an important date in its own right.

"This is really a rendezvous of world champions. High quality is here –we have 12 World Cup stars," said Blatter, in reference to the roll of honour in terms of word titles.

Asian champions Japan, CONCACAF champions Mexico, and Oceania surprise package Tahiti are also invited to the party for which 132 000 tickets have already been sold, Fifa indicated Friday.

The winners of January's Africa Cup of Nations will likewise compete.

"There is great passion for football in Brazil, the mecca of football," added Blatter, who is confident that all will be in place in six months time when the action starts in Brasilia before further encounters in Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza, Recife, final host Rio de Janeiro and Salvador.

Defending Confederations Cup champions Brazil will be out to prove they can rise above recent poor showings which have left them outside Fifa's rankings top ten.

That slump precipitated the sacking of Mano Menezes as coach and Scolari's return rescue mission, but Spain coach Vicente del Bosque says the auriverde are "the team to beat".

Fifa Secretary General Jerome Valcke, who earlier this year infuriated Brazil by saying it needed a "kick up the backside," was effusive Saturday as he looked forward to June.

"Brazil will receive the cream of the cream," he enthused.

The draw for the 2013 Confederations Cup:

Group A: Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Italy

Group B: Spain, Uruguay, Tahiti, African champions (to be decided on February10)

The competition will be staged from June 15-30, 2013


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