'If I say a game starts at 8.45pm, it starts at 8.45pm'
The eagerly-awaited FIFA Confederations Cup Germany 2005 Final between Brazil and Argentina takes place on Wednesday 29 June. Football's world governing body insists on organisational excellence, entrusting the task of running a faultless event to General Coordinator Harold Mayne-Nicholls.
Mayne-Nicholls makes his way to the stadium some six hours before kick-off, ready to greet the security manager some two hours later. A variety of security checks must be completed three and a half hours before kick-off, so that spectators can begin taking their seats a full 180 minutes before the match. The schedule is strictly adhered to, and Mayne-Nicholls is meticulous in his attention to detail and procedure.
The teams and match officials appear no later than 90 minutes before kick-off. Ten minutes later, the team sheets must be handed to the fourth official, who also checks both teams' kit. "One of our important jobs is to examine the exact colour of the shirts," Mayne-Nicholls reports, as the process is not always as simple as it may sound.
"I remember Senegal at the 2002 World Cup. Uruguay were supposed to play in light blue, and Senegal in green. But they just weren't happy about that. We debated it for half an hour, but eventually persuaded them they had to do it." Black and white TV is still the norm in many countries, so FIFA insists the teams wear contrasting light and dark kit.
The teams are permitted on to the pitch to warm up for 25 minutes, beginning 45 minutes before kick-off. The goalkeepers are allowed five minutes longer. "Everyone has to stick to the schedule. No-one is permitted to remain on the field a moment longer," the General Coordinator declares. Otherwise, the entire timing could be thrown out of sync. "Another vital moment for us is the teams assembling punctually in the tunnel, ready to walk out on to the pitch. The fans are already in their seats. And if I say a game starts at 8.45pm, it starts at 8.45pm."
Players are only human of course, so the occasional delay is inevitable. "I can tell you a funny story about Roy Keane. I was in charge of Manchester United against Necaxa at the FIFA Club World Championship 2000 in Brazil. Both teams appeared in the tunnel ten minutes before kick-off, and everything was ready to go. So I said, 'Let's go' and Roy Keane suddenly replied, 'Sorry, I've just got to visit the loo'. He disappeared for three or four minutes, and the game started three or four minutes late," Mayne-Nicholls relates with a wry grin. "What was I supposed to do? A team can't take the field without its captain."
Exactly eight minutes before kick-off, the children bearing the team flags emerge on to the pitch, followed by the FIFA Fair Play banner, the General Coordinator, and the match officials. The players march out six minutes ahead of the start. The national anthems are played, the stars shake hands, and the team photos are taken. Following the toss for ends, the match is finally ready to begin.
However, it is not unknown for the teams to take the field ready for the national anthems - only to be met by complete silence. "At the 1996 FIFA Futsal World Championship in Spain, we waited in vain for the national anthems ahead of Australia against Ukraine. We couldn't find the man responsible for the music.
"He'd disappeared somewhere with his girlfriend. He simply forgot he was supposed to be in position on time for that match. So we ended up playing the anthems at half-time." Mayne-Nicholls laughs at the episode now. "I told him he wasn't to move from his position for at least an hour before the next game!"
Procedures at the final will be fundamentally the same as at any other major match. The main difference is the medals ceremony, which is rehearsed the day before. "It takes around seven minutes to get everything ready, including erecting the podium." He lists a few important details frame the ceremony. "The runners-up go first. They receive their medals, have their photo taken and leave.
"They aren't celebrating. Then we have the winners, and the captain is the last to receive his medal. As soon as he has it, the President hands him the trophy. That's the end of the official schedule, as we don't have any protocols governing celebrations."
Mayne-Nicholls is convinced Wednesday's final will run smoothly. "I'll do my very best to ensure everything goes well and we don't have any problems. But you can never be certain, that's football for you. Football wouldn't be what it is if there were no mistakes."