All eyes in the football world are on Brazil, where eight countries are now competing in the Confederations Cup, a warm-up for next year's much-anticipated World Cup in Brazil.
The consensus Confederations Cup favorites are Brazil, winner of two straight championships, and Spain, the defending World Cup champion. The other countries in the Confederations Cup, which will conclude at the end of this month, are Japan, Mexico, Italy, Tahiti, Nigeria and Uruguay.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter called the Confederations Cup the "tournament of the champions."
“It is really the champions cup because the champions of all continents are there," Blatter said. "It will be a great, great tournament on the sporting point of view. But for us it’s also important to have a look on the organization because there will be a lot of interest also from the international media, but also from our organizing committee, and I would say also Brazil, but it's also a very good rehearsal for us.”
Brazil's Paulinho (2nd R) celebrates with his teammates after scoring a goal during their Confederations Cup Group A soccer match against Japan at Estadio Nacional in Brasilia, June 15, 2013.
The Confederations Cup kicked off last week, with Brazil beating Japan, 3-0 at Mané Garrincha Stadium in Brasilia.
Brazil and Japan already are assured of a place in the World Cup. Brazil gets an automatic spot because it is the host country, and Japan has qualified from the Asian zone, as have Australia, Iran and South Korea.
To Blatter, it is fitting that Brazil is hosting the Confederations Cup and the World Cup. Football in Brazil is played perhaps with more passion and art than anywhere else.
“It is a multi-cultural country [that] will connect all the people, and in football there is no difference, no social level," Blatter said. "Everybody is a fan of football, everybody knows best of the game. They are the best players, they are the best coaches and the best referees.”
Blatter also gushed over Brazil’s burgeoning economy.
“It’s like a continent, 200 million people, it’s the sixth [largest] world economy, important economy," he said. "They are part of this famous, famous group of the upcoming economies, BRICS it's called, Brazil and the others, South Africa is also in, where we have played the World Cup. So Brazil is a powerhouse, not only a powerhouse in football, it’s a powerhouse in economy.”
The Confederations Cup is being played in six Brazilian cities, and Blatter is hoping to see a strong show of sportsmanship.
“Play fair with respect and please, please don’t give us problems with racism or discrimination," Blatter said. "Let’s show the world through the World Cup qualification now that really, really in football we are on the right track, and we can show the world there can be a very high level competition, very tough competition, but in the spirit of fair play.”
Dissension, however, has surfaced off the field. In protests that have spread across Brazil in the past week, demonstrators are voicing anger at the government, in part, for investing billions of dollars in stadiums and other projects for the Confederations Cup, the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, which are also in Brazil.
The Confederations Cup continues through the championship match in Rio de Janeiro on June 30.