Sunday 14 June ~

Draw the curtains, chill the beers, hunker down in your armchair, and tell your family and friends not to bother calling you for two weeks. Yes, football freaks, it’s time for… the Confederations Cup. OK, cancel all that stuff about the beer and the curtains. It’s an international summer tournament all right, but not one you could really get your teeth into without first suspending your disbelief – a disbelief in the concept of an eight-team tournament pitting the champions of each confederation against each other, with a World Cup winner and a host thrown in for good measure. It’s FIFA’s hobbling international equivalent of the World Club Cup.

As an organisational dry run for the World Cup, you can see why it works for FIFA. After all, if a worthy committee man finds room service at his hotel a little slow during the Confed Cup, he can always switch his accommodation in time for the bigger event one year later. That football’s top functionaries are prepared to sacrifice time and energy testing out the facilities should be a comfort to us all. And if it hadn’t been for the 2005 Confederations Cup in Germany, you can bet that leaky roof at Frankfurt’s Waldstadion would not have been fixed if it hadn’t been witnessed by an international audience watching whatever game it was we were watching. It would have been patched up with a couple of sausage skins and a short prayer that it wouldn’t rain the following summer.

It’s telling that the leaky roof is the easiest event to recall from those games four years ago. There were lots of goals and positive football, but that’s the kind of play you can expect in what are basically exhibition games for corporate guests. The most memorable incident at the 2003 tournament in France was the on-field collapse and death of Cameroon’s Marc-Vivien Foe. The second most memorable incident was that, shamefully, FIFA did not cancel the rest of the games, though at least they lengthened the gaps between tournaments from two to four years.

Coaches more than anyone else love the tournament. “It is a great chance to have all the players together in unusual conditions,” Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque said this week. “None of my players has played in Africa before.” When the US won the 2007 Gold Cup – the unloved Central and North American regional championship which clinched their qualification for the Confed Cup – they talked about the vital preparation it would afford them for the main event, and then sent a third-string squad to the much more prestigious Copa America to get predictably battered. For teams like the US, Egypt and New Zealand, the Confed Cup represents a rare chance to play quality European and South American opposition.
That’s all well and good for the US and Egypt, but the creation of this fake and pointless jamboree has given its participants an unfair advantage over the rest of the World Cup field. Why should the US, for example, have an advantage over regional rivals like Costa Rica and Mexico just because they won a Mickey Mouse tournament that they always host? You could argue that Brazil and Spain are there on merit, having won the Copa America and the European Championship respectively, and therefore they have earned the advantage of the extra preparation. But if these nations are already strong enough to win their regional competitions, they hardly need any further perks.
Meanwhile, the lack of interest among the South African fans has been registered through moribund seat sales, and the organisers have ended up selling blocks of tickets to corporations in the hope that they will pass them on to employees and customers. Brazil v Italy in Group B is reportedly sold out, and so is the final on June 28, while a healthy crowd is expected for today’s opener between South Africa and Iraq. But even if they end up letting people in for free to fill the stands for Iraq v New Zealand, it won’t alter the fact that by this time next year, the name of the tournament’s leading scorer will probably escape you. Then again, if it’s raining outside and the cricket’s off, you might as well just check in and see how many Manchester City players are in the Brazil team these days. If you draw the curtains very tightly and drink enough beer, you might be able to pretend it’s the real thing. Ian Plenderleith

Comments (6)
Comment by G.Man wants a hyphen 2009-06-15 11:17:48

As a test run for the world cup, it might be useful in persuading Sepp to ban the vuvuzela, the plastic horn that creates the sound of a dying elephant attacked by a swarm of mutant killer bees.

I had feared that a couple of narrow wins over Iraq and New Zealand might invite some hubris among the hosts. Happily, the opening game will have aided in retaining the status quo of low expectations. With the possible added bonus that the chancer Joel Santana will be removed as SA's coach.

Comment by radmonkey 2009-06-15 14:24:47

"Why should the US, for example, have an advantage over regional rivals like Costa Rica and Mexico just because they won a Mickey Mouse tournament that they always host?"
Well, everyone knows the rules by now. If Mexico or Canada want to host it, they can just outbid the US.
Anyway, as long as were throwing out the whole "Mickey Mouse" label, then I'll bring up that Copa America is just as deserving if not moreso. For example, they always invite Mexico even though they're not part of the confederation only because they bring in a lot of sponsorship money/kickbacks. Mexico might even host the 2015 Copa America, to make up for CONMEBOL kicking them out after the whole swine flu thing. What will happen if Mexico wins the 2015 version in front of their home crowd in Azteca?

Comment by fer 2009-06-16 23:40:58

What did we learn after the first round of games in the Confederations Cup? Though you should always be careful not to take much away from a single game by a team, we didn’t see much that we haven’t seen before.
1. Spain are still the best team in the world. Top to bottom, back to front, the Spanish have the most complete and most successful team of the last two years. From Iker Casillas on goal to Fernando Torres and David Villa up front, past a stellar midfield with amazing depth (Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Xabi Alonso, Santi Cazorla, David Silva … wow) and a solid defence, this team seems unstoppable at the moment. Then again, beating New Zealand 5-0 isn’t a testament to anyone’s strength right now.
2. Brazil are soft at the back and lose their composure too easily. Kaká is, if not the best player on the planet, at least in the top 3. Without him, Brazil does not win this game. It took a last minute penalty for the Egyptians to lose, all because the Brazilians figured they’d cruise after ending the first half up 3-1. If there’s one guy you would figure would instill mental strength in the side, it would be Dunga. Let’s see if he’s still there by the time the World Cup rolls around. I can’t see this team beating Spain.
3. The USA should’ve done everything possible to get Giuseppe Rossi playing for them. At the very least, it would saved them from receiving two goals this week. Rossi was born in Teaneck, New Jersey, of Italian parents. At 18, he chose to play for Italy’s U-21s over the US and soon made it to Italy’s senior team. His goalscoring reminded me of a certain other Rossi, name of Paolo, who roamed opposition goals for Italy more than two decades ago. I don’t see him staying at Villareal in Spain for too long.
4. South Africa may be one of the poorest hosts of the World Cup in terms of football. No host has ever failed to progress past the first round. This team may accomplish that, depending on who they get grouped with. Even worse than the USA ‘94 squad.
5. There’s no way New Zealand is winning their playoff against Asia’s 5th-placed team. I really hope I’m wrong about this one, but Iraq isn’t even in the frame for a playoff spot in Asia. It’s likely to be Iran, Saudi Arabia or North Korea. All three of those have had better qualification matches than Iraq and right now, I’d back Iraq to defeat New Zealand in their Confederations Cup match. That match will tell us more than anything whether the All Whites can get to the finals in 2010. It is an absolute must-win for them.

Comment by geoff 2009-06-18 05:37:30

Have to agree the plastic horns drive me nuts. Then again without them you could hear a pin drop. Fair go NZ. At least they're trying in both senses.

Comment by fbrazolin 2009-06-18 15:27:23

I have mixed feelings about the Confederations Cup. Although the games are boring to death, I believe that they're really useful for the squads.

Just as an example, after Copa America, the Confederations Cup is the only time when Brazil have all the players together. There's always something going on between the teams and CBF during the season that avoids some players being in the squad.

On the other hand, many of those players are tired because of the end of the European season, and don't show their best. So, what's the point? I believe that, after all, this celebration works just for the managers, who can test and improve the tactical side of their teams.

But then again, our manager is Dunga. There's no tactical planning, not to mention any improvement.

Comment by Dalef65 2009-07-10 17:04:55

The Confederations cup in general,and the USA involvement in particular is much Adu about nothing i reckon

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