JOHANNESBURG - Classy Brazil fights back to beat the brave United States 3-2 to take its record third Confederations Cup, but the tournament is seen more of a test that shows South Africa’s performance as a host country. The 16-match competition proves that the country is preparing steadily, while it also shows that the country has a lot left to do.
The eight-team Confederations Cup tournament, which serves as a World Cup test event, produced some quality football and a surprise finalist in the United States, which led by two goals before losing 3-2 to Brazil in Sunday's title match at Ellis Park.
Host South Africa also made it through the group stage, losing to Brazil in the semifinals and then falling 3-2 in extra time to Spain in the third-place match.
"We've seen great football from these teams which from the beginning you think that they're not going to qualify," said Abedi Pele, a three-time African Player of the Year from Ghana. "And then at the end you see them in the semis and the final, so I think it has been a wonderful tournament."
But while the 16-match competition proved that South Africa is preparing steadily to host the world's most popular football tournament in less than 12 months, it also showed that the country has a lot left to do. One of the biggest issues revolves around trying to assure visitors they will be safe and they will be able to get to and from the 10 stadiums that will be used around the country.
Although a pair of hotel break-ins involving the national teams of Egypt and Brazil were reported to police, FIFA said several times that it trusts the local authorities in South Africa.
"There is a security plan for the Confederations Cup. There is a security plan for the World Cup, and we trust the South African authorities to secure both events," FIFA spokesman Nicolas Maingot said during the tournament.
South Africa is expecting about 450,000 fans to enter the country next year for the World Cup, and organizing committee CEO Danny Jordaan has previously said that $138 million will be spent on increasing the police force in the country for the tournament.
Brazilian delegation head Antonio Carlos Nunes de Lima doesn't seem to be convinced, however, reportedly saying that he was "really worried" about security. He added that he wasn't sure whether he would bring his family to South Africa for the World Cup. The Brazilian confederation quickly tried to distance itself from those statements, saying Lima's words "do not reflect the opinion" of president Ricardo Teixeira.
On the field, the Brazilians didn't look like they had much of a problem, despite the cold of the Southern Hemisphere's winter. The five-time world champions squeaked past Egypt in their opening match, and then easily beat both the United States and Italy in Group B.
"I think the players like it," German great Franz Beckenbauer said of the cool temperatures in South Africa in June. "You could see how the players are moving, how the players are reacting, how fast the players are running." What players Ğ and spectators worldwide Ğ should be used to is the sound of vuvuzela, a plastic horn that the African football fans are simply in love with. Blowing their vuvuzelas all game long is a game ritual for them, but the rest of the world does not seem to be big fans of it, as there are already web-based campaigns to force FIFA ban it, with one being on www.banvuvuzela.com.
In Group A, South Africa held Iraq to a 0-0 draw and beat New Zealand 2-0 to progress along with European champion Spain, which set a record for consecutive victories at 15 with its third straight win in the group stage. The record came to an end against the Americans in the semifinals, when the Spanish were trying to extend their unbeaten streak to a record 36 games.
South Africa, led by Brazilian coach Joel Santana, nearly pulled off another upset in its semifinal match against Brazil, but the South American champions scored in the 88th minute to reach the final.
"What's important is that we entered this tournament as an outsider and now we have earned some respect," Santana said.
But despite the success on the field, Jordaan has already stressed that the hard work starts now.
"We must not celebrate too long," Jordaan said. "We must knuckle down and deliver the conditions for the World Cup, which is a huge competition."