Yes, it's a test event for the next year's World Cup, but the Confederations Cup can also be a litmus test for aspiring contenders and a proving ground for soccer's emerging stars.
The FIFA Confederations Cup has a reputation it doesn't want -- and perhaps doesn't deserve. It is a stubborn problem that's hard to shift. Despite the presence of some of the world's best teams and players, it is a tournament which has struggled to gain global relevance or credibility.
The eight-team field consists of the six reigning champions of the FIFA confederations (UEFA, CONMEBOL, CONCACAF, CAF, AFC, OFC), plus the reigning FIFA World Cup champion and the host nation.
Since 2001, the competition has been used as a test event for the World Cup the following year. Football's most important showpiece has been branching out into non-traditional soccer regions. It has been to the Far East and to South Africa, prompting the governing body to stage what amounts to a dress rehearsal, ensuring stadia and infrastructure in those countries are up to the task.
If it is a test for local organizers, it is no different for the competitors. A year before the World Cup itself, many nations are still in the final stages of qualifying. A place at the Confederations Cup allows them to assess their readiness in relation to their international rivals.
Spain, the world's No. 1-ranked team and the reigning World Cup and Euro champion, is keen to flex its muscles and reassert its strength among football's international community. After another season without Spanish club representation in the European Champions League Final, La Roja need a strong showing in South America.
For Brazil, it is a rare competitive opportunity. The World Cup host has no need to qualify, but that means Brazil has been largely confined to playing exhibitions for the last three years. Other than a forgettable showing at the 2011 Copa America, Brazil has not played a truly meaningful match since losing in the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup.
The Confederations Cup can also be a proving ground for tomorrow's superstars. Emerging internationals like Brazilian striker Neymar will have a chance to show the world what it can expect in 12 months' time. He is the new face of the samba beat, but can he handle the pressure of global scrutiny?
In essence, it is a mini World Cup. The Confederations Cup is a quarter the size of the real thing, with eight teams (compared to 32) utilizing just half of the 12 stadia which will be in operation during the summer of 2014. The iconic Maracana stadium in Rio has been renovated, and just like in 1950 it is, once again, ready to welcome the world.
This is a world which embraces both giants and dwarfs. Brazil and Italy have won the World Cup nine times between them -- and the Brazilians have also triumphed in the last two editions of the Confederations Cup. Tahiti -- a tiny, volcanic Pacific island with a population of less than 200,000 -- has also earned its invitation to Brazil's pre-World Cup festivities as champion of Oceania.
A rather more significant "first" at the Confederations Cup is the introduction of goal-line technology. FIFA has finally entered the video age. Every goal in every stadium will be watched in 3D by seven specially positioned cameras. Now, should the ball cross the line, the referee will be alerted within one second of the incident and the guesswork will be gone forever.
The Confederations Cup is not the World Cup, but it is becoming a tournament in its own right with a competitive edge. Four years ago an inspired U.S. team made it to the final, only to lose a five-goal thriller.
A test event it may be, but on the field it is no exhibition. Just ask the Americans.