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Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 27 - 11 - 2008

Egypt was placed alongside two World Cup football champions in the FIFA Confederations Cup. Inas Mazhar reports from Johannesburg
The Confederations Cup is scheduled to take place from 14 to 28 June 2009. The matches will be held in Johannesburg's Ellis Park Stadium, Rustenburg's Royal Bafokeng Sports Complex, Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein/Mangaung and Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Tshwane/ Pretoria. Ellis Park is set to host the opening game between South Africa and Iraq.
It was a spectacular evening at the FIFA Confederations Cup draw at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg. According to the draw conducted by FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Vlacke, South Africa, Spain, Iraq and New Zealand were placed in Group A while Brazil, Italy, the United States and Egypt in Group B.
Approximately 900 guests attended the event, including Spanish coach Vicente Del Bosque, US boss Bob Bradley, Iraq's Brazil-born manager Jorvan Vieira, Egyptian master tactician Hassan Shehata as dubbed by FIFA.com, and South Africa coach Joel Santana.
Hosts South Africa, who were seeded in Group A, will open the competition against Iraq at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on 14 June immediately following the opening ceremony. Brazil, the seeded team in Group B, have been pitted against African champions Egypt, who have won back-to-back CAF Africa Cup of Nations finals.
It will be the first time that both Italy and Spain will play competitive matches on African soil.
Chairman of the Organising Committee for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, FIFA vice-president and CAF president Issa Hayatou, made the inaugural address, saying he was excited about the tournament as it would be the culmination of a long process and "Africa's proudest moment.
"Africa's contribution to football is well documented. Our players have made us proud on the world stage and I have no doubt that South Africa will now magnificently represent the qualities of Africa in staging this event," Hayatou, a Cameroonian, said. "Africa is a united football continent that stands together and now claims its rightful place in global footballing history."
World Cup Local Organising Committee (SALOC) chairman Irvin Khoza added that South Africa was determined to ensure that the FIFA Confederations Cup 2009 was a success. "As Africans we are proud and honoured to host a tournament featuring the reigning world champions, the champions of the six FIFA confederations and our own Bafana Bafana ."
According to Egyptian national team head coach Shehata, the draw has put Egypt in a tough Group B. "However, we accept that. Actually I found it a great challenge for us." Shehata told Al-Ahram Weekly.
"Brazil and Italy are two big teams with a long history. They have won the World Cup and are their continents' champions. The US as well have made it to this event three times before and had good results.
"We are also a big team. We have managed to win the Nations Cup six times, the last two in a row. We won't be there for fun. It is our duty to fight for our reputation and prove that we deserve to earn a place alongside the giants, and challenge them as well.
"The Egyptian team is now used to playing against big teams. We have played friendlies against Argentina, Spain and Portugal. Luckily, we are meeting three other big teams -- Brazil, Italy and the USA -- and they have come to us a gift in the Confederations Cup. It is a valuable opportunity for us.
"The Confederations Cup will be the best opportunity for us to prepare for the 2010 World Cup qualifications. In March, we play against Zambia, then we face Algeria on 6 June, and Rwanda on 10 June before flying to South Africa on 12 June for our opening against Brazil on 15 June. If Egypt wins the last two games against Algeria and Rwanda before travelling to South Africa, the team will gain much confidence and morale.
"We can't afford to fear Brazil because if we enter the first match with such a feeling then we will remain with the same fear against all the other teams and this is not in our favour.
"All I can say now that we are confident, because we're representing the African continent and we are the champions of Africa. Each game has its own story. We are always looking to win every match and we proved that in the Africa Cup of Nations. So, we will be looking to prove ourselves here and we will try, together with South Africa to show the world how African football has progressed," Shehata.
Two press conferences were held after the draw for each separate group. Shehata, Bradley and Narciso Pezzotti, Italy's assistant coach, attended but Brazil's coach Dunga failed to show up. No reasons were given.
The coaches gave their reactions to the situation of their teams before answering questions from the media. "This is a very strong group. We will definitely be tested here," Bradley said. "But it's a good prospect to play against the great teams who are coming to the Confederations Cup. Our qualifying schedule is very busy, as we're playing qualifiers prior to arriving in South Africa. But we had a great experience when we were here for the Mandela Challenge last year and we are looking forward to coming back for the Confederations Cup and hopefully also for the World Cup"
" This is going to be a particularly difficult task, considering the quality of the teams playing here at the Confederations Cup," Pezzotti said. "We hold this event in high esteem. At the same time, we are preparing our team for the 2010 World Cup. We are going through a transitional period, and it will be a good opportunity to test the young players. One of the most beautiful things in football is that it is unpredictable. But we hope there won't be negative surprises for us. Football has become globalised and teams are progressing all the time." Pezzotti pointed out that Marcello Lippi, the team's head coach, was called for an urgent matter and he was representing him.
According to the FIFA.com, with the world champions and the crowd-pulling Brazilians pitted against each other, Group B offers drama and excitement aplenty. Dunga's South American kings, with their stylish play and dazzling stars, will be expected to ignite the section. But in a group this tough, anything can happen.
Marcello Lippi's often-unstoppable Azzurri will want to prove to everyone that they are still the team that conquered the world in Germany two years ago. These two football giants have not met in over a decade and this game could provide bragging rights for whoever comes out on top between the two teams holding the most World Cup titles (Brazil has five, Italy four).
The US, still riding the wave of their continental triumph over old rivals Mexico, will be determined to earn an appearance in the Confederations Cup final, no matter who stands in their way.
And then there are the Pharaohs. If ever there was an African champion able to go pound-for-pound, punch-for-punch with world football's heavyweights, Egypt are surely that team. Consistent, physical and hungry to become 'champion of champions', the Egyptians are considered well capable of claiming the crown on their home continent.
Former World Cup champion and the reigning Confederation champion Brazil and Italy are considered favourites of the group while Egypt and the USA are the outsiders. Brazil has won the Confederations Cup twice, Italy is making its first appearance, Egypt the second while the US three times in which the team has managed to finish third in two editions.
Brazil and Italy have not played one another in over a decade and their last match in 1997 ended in a 3-3 draw. Of their 12 encounters, they have each one five games and drawn two. A Confederations Cup meeting could very well be a very special encounter as one of football's greatest statistical stalemates between two of its biggest powers could be broken.
Brazil and Egypt have squared off four times, all friendless and all within the period 1960-1963. All games were won by Brazil and played on Egyptian soil.
The US have only beaten Brazil once in their 13 encounters.
Italy and the US have met 10 times. Italy has won seven and the remaining three games finished in a draw.
Egypt and the US have only played each other once, back in 1987. Egypt won the game 3-1.
At another other press conference, Group A coaches gave their opinions. "I'm very happy with the draw. We play in a group with teams of top quality," Joel Santana of South Africa said. "We hope that all will go well for us in the tournament, and we are very happy to represent South Africa. I began five months ago in a project which Carlos Parreira which started two years ago. We are now about midway through. However, we've now got 80 per cent of the players, which we believe are the best for the squad. We've had some turbulence, but we think that in 2009 people will see how much we have already improved. All of the teams coming to South Africa are champions. We need to work hard to challenge them."
"I don't have a reason to be happy," Jorvan Vieira, the Iraq coach, said. "We are playing against the host country, which should draw a lot of spectators. The best team will win. We will have to prepare because we need to represent our country and also Asia at this event. We're going to bring our best players to this event and I hope that we will do well."
Frank van Hattum, New Zealand football chairman: "We're very excited. The last time we played Spain was in 1974. For New Zealand to play in any world tournament is a great thing and we hope we can spring some surprises. We have a team ready to compete in the Confederations Cup. All of our players are professionals, playing in Europe or in the US. We know we will be the underdog. Football is such a beautiful game where the underdog sometimes comes through. But we are quite confident that we will compete."
Vicente Del Bosque, Spain coach, says, "I think this is a very interesting draw for all these teams. It is an interesting mixture of styles. But I hope that our style will ultimately be the one which wins the group. We are very pleased to be able to take part in this tournament in this wonderful country. We know that have to be respectful of all the teams in this tournament and we'll have to see who emerges as the best."
Tickets on sale
After the draw, tickets for the Confederations Cup went on sale on Monday. For the LOC this is the area that requires the most focus. "This is one of our major challenges. We do not want to just fill the stadiums for the high-profile matches. We want all the games full," explained the organisation's chief executive officer Danny Jordaan.
FIFA Secretary-General Valcke explained the ticketing system to the media. There are two ways in which people can apply for tickets. Fans can either log on to FIFA.com or they can go to any First National Bank (FNB) branch around the country to apply for tickets.
The LOC revealed the ticket prices, explaining that there will be a special 'category 4' ticket, priced at 70 rand, reserved for South African citizens only. For the final of the Confederations Cup, the cheapest ticket will be 210 rand while the most expensive will be 1,400 rand.
"Through this we can give back to the South African citizens who are part of this process," said Irvin Khoza, chairman of SALOC.
Eight Misses make a hit
A bevy of beauties from around the world took part in the draw. The eight Miss World candidates acted as assistants to Valcke who supervised the sorting of the teams into groups for next summer's prestige tournament.
Seven of the candidates hailed from the countries participating in the tournament, with Iraq represented by reigning Miss World, Zilin Zhang of China. Europe provided Miss Italy Claudia Russo representing the World Cup holders, with Miss Spain Patricia Yurena Rodriguez Alonjo doing duty for the continental champions.
Tamara Almeida Silva represented Copa America winners Brazil, and was joined by Miss USA Mercia Lane Lindell and the youngest of the women, 17-year-old Miss New Zealand Kahurangi Julia Taylor. North Africa provided Miss Egypt Sanaa Ismail Hamed, with Miss South Africa Tansey Coetzee rounding off the group.
Miss Egypt is a student at the Faculty of Arts, Alexandria University. She studies English literature and is also a model and aims at opening her own modelling school and working as an English translator.
The young women attended a photo shoot at Ellis Park before the draw, posed for a couple of dozen photographers with former South Africa captain Lucas Radebe at the venue for the Confederations Cup final. Brazilian Tamara Almeida Silva displayed a real talent for football as she showed off her ball- juggling skills. The women obviously enjoyed their visit to the Ellis Park site, which is being readied in time for the cup.


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