K E I R   R A D N E D G E   f r o m   S A O   P A U L O

** One box ticked then. The first formal setpiece on the long and winding road to the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil has been signed off: the draw for the Confederations Cup.

Or, to be precise, half the draw. The need for pre-seeded ‘fair draw play’ meant that Brazil and Spain had each been slotted into Groups A and B respectively which meant that Uruguayand Italy had to drop into Groups B and A.

The 'action' . . . with Alex Atala, Valcke and Adriana

Hence two places remained in each group – and one of those could not even be written in because the African champions will not be known until after the Cup of Nations Final in Johannesburg in February.

For the sake of the facts, Group A was completed byJapan and Mexico then Group B by Tahiti and the African champions. Japan were thus matched against Brazil in the Opening Match.

FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke was MC for the draw ceremony – which featured one minor snag – assisted by model Adriana Lima, chef Alex Atala and Cafu, Brazil’s 2002 World Cup-winning captain, who bounced out the official Cafusa ball.

The venue, the Palacio dos Convencoes, resembles a giant yellow ladybird. Perhaps it had wanted to land somewhere else but, in the world capital of traffic jams, found itself gridlocked into one corner of the Anhembi Parque Convention Centre.

Top marks to FIFA for persuading all the national coaches to attend. In previous years various managers have found excuses – the need to check up personally on a promising teenager in an obscure third division match – to stay away.

Hilariously it was the Brazilians themselves who almost spoiled the line-up by sacking Mano Menezes at the end of last week.

CBF president Jose Maria Marin was not bothered to appoint a new man until January. That was until he was assailed by a sharp word on the side from Sepp Blatter. FIFA’s president has sought insistently to gloss over a perception abroad that Brazil has brought only an air of indolence to World Cup preparations. For the World Cup hosts to turn up at their party without a manager would undo all his good work.

Inside, the intrigue was all about protocol.

With Blatter on the right of Brazil’s state President Dilma Rousseff, who would flank sit on her left? Old political enmities, stretching back to the military dictatorships, meant she may not to have been too keen to find Marin there, but here he was. For Marin to find himself to the left of Rousseff was probably an uncomfortable irony for both of them.

One significant absentee, for keen FIFA watchers, was Nicolas Leoz, 84-year-old president of both the South American confederation and of the Confederations Cup organising committee. Leoz had been in Sao Paulo only three weeks earlier but that was to undergo heart surgery. Convalescence not only kept him away from the draw but unlined precisely why reform adviser Mark Pieth has been trying to persuade FIFA to adopt term and age limits.

Blatter set the pre-live-TV proceedings under way inside the ladybird, welcoming Rousseff and the rest of the audience, praising Brazil’s economic progress since it last staged the World Cup in 1950 and decorating his address with his favourite words – hope, emotions, etc.

Next came Marin. “We shall be ready,” he said, promising a fantastic party and a great competition because “this is our moment.”

Rousseff wrapped it up. She welcomed by name Scolari and Parreira as well as organising board members Ronaldo and Bebeto – “two great champions who won Cups for Brazil.”

Shedid not welcome Marin by name but did echo his promise that “the six cities will be ready [for the Confederations Cup].”

“We are certain,” added Rousseff, “that we have prepared ourselves properly to hold an oustanding sports event. In June 2013 we will show that Brazil has the wherewithal to hold the 2014 World Cup.

“Brazil is, by definition, a democratic country marked by a robust economy; a country that does not have a culture marked by prejudice or exclusion whatsoever; a country that honours human rights.

“We will make this the best organised and most joyful competition ever.”

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