JOHANNESBURG: African Cup of Nations holder Egypt was given a tough draw Saturday for next year s Confederations Cup, being pitted against world champion Italy, five-time World Cup winner Brazil, and the United States.
European champion Spain received an easier draw and will come up against New Zealand, Iraq and host South Africa for a tournament that brings together the champions from each continent and is considered a dress rehearsal for the 2010 World Cup.
South Africa will open the tournament against Iraq at Ellis Park on June 14 in Group B, with New Zealand taking on Spain later the same day in Group A in Rustenburg.
Bloemfontein and Pretoria will also host matches during the two-week tournament, which will be a test run for South Africa s security, transport and stadium preparedness for 2010.
One of the most eagerly anticipated matches will be between Italy and two-time Confed Cup winner Brazil on June 21.
Assistant Italy coach Narciso Pezzotti said he hoped there wouldn t be any negative surprises for his team in the tournament.
Italy is going through a renewal period and it will be a very useful experience for our young players to mature them for the World Cup, Pezzotti said.
United States coach Bob Bradley also welcomed the chance to play in South Africa ahead of the World Cup despite being drawn in a difficult group. The US defeated Mexico to advance to the Confederations Cup.
It s a very strong group, Bradley said. We know we will be tested a great deal but we are excited abut the prospect of playing these great teams.
Spain, which won its first major title in 44 years by capturing Euro 2008 in June, warned against complacency as it seeks its first FIFA trophy.
We do have to be respectful of the quality of the teams and we will see who will be the best one, coach Vicente del Bosque said.
The Iraqi team only recently resumed training at home since the US invasion in 2003. Iraq has not played a home game in nearly two decades because of wars and sanctions.
Since the invasion, the national squad has been training mostly in neighboring Jordan, Qatar and United Arab Emirates. But the team brought jubilation in the war-torn country by winning the Asian Cup last year.
We now have to prove to all of you what we can do, Jorvan Viera said.
New Zealand squeezed past the favored Australia to qualify.
We know we are the underdogs, New Zealand chairman Frank Van Hattum said. But football is such a beautiful game that sometimes the underdog comes through.
For South Africa, the tournament will be a chance to show whether its team s recent improvement can be maintained. After elimination from next year s African Cup, Bafana Bafana has won its four most recent matches.
South Africa coach Joel Santana, who took over from Carlos Parreira, said the team is midway through its renewal.
It is true that at the beginning we did have some turbulence, he said. But we believe we are on the right road, and on this road we have won the trust of all the players and all our fans which is very important.
We will be able to see in 2009 how much we have already improved.