FIFA President Joseph Blatter was unequivocal: the Confederations Cup is "the festival of champions; it's not a dress rehearsal for the World Cup." This unmistakable stance is unlikely to hold much water in Brazil.
Ever since the Confederations Cup was converted into a four-yearly competition, held in the World Cup host country 12 months before the main event, its unofficial status as a scene-setter for football's biggest competition was cemented. The location, the timing and the teams on display suddenly fitted the bill perfectly.
This should in no way marginalize the competition or its importance - any tournament lacking in either credibility or quality could not claim to be a noteworthy World Cup dry run.
Many of the world's biggest teams have travelled to Brazil for a competition that should embrace quality and diversity in equal doses; for FIFA President Sepp Blatter, the competition is more than just a dress rehearsal.
"This year is the FIFA Confederations Cup, the festival of champions; it's not a dress rehearsal for the World Cup," Blatter said ahead of the competition. "It's giving the organizers the chance to have two tournaments in one year."
Blatter's point that the tournament should be recognized in its own right is justified, but this year's parallels - in terms of both infrastructure developments and sporting performance in host country Brazil - to preparations for the World Cup proper cannot be overlooked either. It was most likely the popularity of this perspective that prompted Blatter to so directly challenge it.
A World Cup feel from the off
Brazil face Japan in the capital, Brasilia, on opening day, a game that brings together the two teams already guaranteed a spot in the 2014 World Cup. Japan, the undisputed superpower of contemporary Asian football, has again qualified earlier than any other country on earth in a regional group that it has dominated for almost a decade. With eight Bundesliga players, plus ex-Borussia Dortmund playmaker Shinji Kagawa - now at Manchester United - the Japanese team has something of a German spine.
As tournament hosts, Brazil's ticket was stamped for nothing - but that's the only free ride the "Selecao" will be getting, this summer or next. Success breeds expectations, and fans of the five-time World Cup winners will settle for nothing less than a sixth crown. With 2014 favorites and defending champions Spain contesting the Confederations Cup, supporters rightly see this tournament as a chance for Brazil to demonstrate that it's ready to return to the top. "New" coach Luiz Felipe Scolari - in his second stint with the national team - carries a fair chunk of this burden.
Barcelona's big-money summer signing Neymar, who now has a year in the European leagues to refine his impressive raw talent in time for the main event, will be another obvious focal point.
Brazil's latest batch of players failed in their 2012 Olympic mission to win a gold medal, losing in the final to Mexico despite the CBF football association's decision to send an unusually star-studded squad to a tournament often snubbed by major soccer players. Having fluffed their lines in one rehearsal, Neymar and friends face even tougher competition this time around.
On the organizational level, Brazilian authorities have the chance to prove that cost overruns and delay in stadium and infrastructure projects are not an impediment to hosting an international tournament.
"Yes, we still have people working on them," Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo said of some of the venues, "but this is merely fine tuning." Football great Pele expressed similar optimism this week in Rio de Janeiro.
Champions of the world
Eight teams qualify for the Confederations Cup, the champions of the FIFA's six continental competitions plus the World Cup holders and the World Cup hosts-to-be. They have been split into two groups of four, fighting for qualification to the semifinals.
Brazil, Asian champions Japan, CONCACAF Gold Cup winners Mexico and European Championship runners-up Italy make up Group A. Italy inherited their berth courtesy of Spain being reigning champions of both Europe and the world.
Besides Spain in Group B, African Cup of Nations winners Nigeria, Copa America champions Uruguay and Oceania Nations Cup winners Tahiti will take to the field.
That lineup boasts three World Cup front-runners, at least two tournament dark horses - depending on how highly you rate Mexico - and a couple of sides that may or may not make the 2014 grade.
Favorites, even in the Americas?
Fans may expect a Brazilian win, but the bookmakers only have eyes for Spain.
Some of the players that tend to warm the Spanish bench, not least Bayern Munich's 2012 signing Javi Martinez, would waltz into any other international outfit. A first-choice striker is the closest thing to a hole in Spain's team, but coach Vicente del Bosque usually solves this problem by employing one of his army of midfield maestros as a "false 9" at the sharp end.
Don't be fooled by the Champions League, Spain, Iniesta and friends still rule the international roost
Barcelona and Real Madrid might have met their end in this season's Champions League semifinals against Bundesliga clubs Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, but it's premature to talk of an international changing of the guard - not least considering the German national team's spotty form and consistently porous defense since the European Championships. Spain remains the benchmark, even on foreign soil. Next summer, the European qualifiers will all seek to become the first ever continental team to win a World Cup in the Americas.
One German in the mix
As bridesmaids of 17 years - Germany has not won an international tournament since Euro 96 in England - Joachim Löw's squad can choose their summer holiday destination, foregoing an enforced fortnight in Brazil.
Bundesliga referee Felix Brych will suit up for his first ever international competition, flying the flag in a neutral capacity.
"To be nominated as one of just four European referees is the greatest success of my career so far," Brych, a lawyer from Munich, said in April when he heard the news. "I'm really looking forward to the tournament and want to make a good case for myself for future international assignments by performing well."
Since then, Brych was crowned the German DFB football association's referee of the year for this past season.
At the Confederations Cup, Brych will be part of a new officiating era. For the first time ever, FIFA's GoalControl technology - used to electronically ascertain whether a shot crossed the goal line or not - will be employed at the Confederations Cup.