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South Africa succeeds with Confederations Cup

Some seats are empty, but the sound of vuvuzelas fills soccer stadiums.

JOHANNESBURG — By successfully hosting the Confederations Cup, South Africa proved to the world that it is able to organize a major international soccer tournament, allaying fears that it will fail in staging the 2010 World Cup, the world’s most popular sporting event.

The Confederations Cup, which is now held every four years, is widely considered to be a dress rehearsal for the World Cup. Never before had it been seen as more important than it was for South Africa, the first African country ever to hold both events.

While few doubted that a country like Germany — the organizer of the last World Cup — would be able to pull it off, South Africa has faced more scrutiny than perhaps any previous host, partly because of the country’s high crime rate, but also because of doubts over its infrastructure.

Overall, in the test run that is the Confederations Cup, South Africa performed reasonably well. Local fans provided a great atmosphere in stadiums despite a biting winter chill. Most importantly, the crime related to the tournament was almost nonexistent. Still, some problems did surface. Public transportation in Johannesburg was far from adequate and attendance at some of the games was poor.

Sepp Blatter, the president of the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), soccer’s governing body, worked tirelessly to bring both the Confederations Cup and the World Cup to the African continent, which has given so much to the world of soccer without reaping much in terms of financial rewards.

“We are here not only to honor Africa. It’s also justice to Africa, to African football,” Blatter said right before the opening of the tournament two weeks ago. “Let’s go and trust a little bit, trust these people.”

Two weeks later, after all the goals and spectators had been counted, Blatter was all business. Without giving much detail over his calculations, he gave local organizers a 7.5 mark on a 10-point scale, saying that logistics still needed work but that the hospitality had been remarkable. “At the end of the Confederations Cup, with the experiences we have made, I should be a very satisfied and very happy president of FIFA,” Blatter said.

The Confederations Cup adopted its current format in 1997. The tournament counts eight participants, including the host country, the reigning world champion and the champions of other continents. The lineup this year offered some appetizing first-round clashes such as Italy-Brazil, but it also provided for some mismatched encounters like the thrashing of lowly New Zealand by European champion Spain.