HE Confederations Cup is a slightly strange tournament. It is, in essence, a soft opening for the country hosting the following year’s World Cup – in this summer’s case Russia.
Any problems that arise during the competition can be ironed out over the next 12 months. But that doesn’t just apply to infrastructure, stadiums and organisers, the countries competing can use it as an important learning experience too.
There will be several big hitters in action in Russia. European champions Portugal, led by Cristiano Ronaldo, World Cup winners Germany, Copa America victors Chile, Gold Cup holders Mexico and AFCON winners Cameroon to name five.
And let’s not forget Brazil. After all, it’s not really a party without the Selecao, who have won the last three Confederations Cup tournaments.
But, curiously, victory at the Confederations Cup doesn’t lead to World Cup success. No country has gone on to lift the biggest prize in football having left the tournament victorious. Our friends at Football Whispers delve into the history.
The Confederations Cup is still a relatively new competition. It started out life in 1992 but was known as the King Fahd Cup. The first tournament was held in Saudi Arabia, featured just four teams and only four matches were played. Argentina came out winners.
Three years later, in 1995, the King Fahd returned. Again held in Saudi Arabia, six teams were invited to compete and Denmark turned out victorious.
FIFA, clearly smitten with the idea of another international tournament, stepped in in 1997 and the Confederations Cup was born. However, the competition was again held in Saudi Arabia and, given it would be played every two years, was clearly not yet the World Cup rehearsal it has come to be.
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Brazil were victorious in 1997. They defeated Australia 6-0 in the final with Romario and Ronaldo both scoring hat-tricks. Denilson was named Player of the Tournament.
It was a fine Seleção squad and one that would remain largely unchanged for the 1998 World Cup in France. That tournament was, largely, routine for Brazil. They reached the final, playing some excellent football in the process.
But fate conspired against Brazil. Ronaldo suffered a convulsive fit on the eve of the game and was, entirely understandably, a shadow of himself in the final. Hosts France, inspired by Zinedine Zidane, won 3-0.
In 1999 the Confederations Cup was held in Mexico and was won by the hosts. Two years later and the tournament had its first outing as the World Cup dress rehearsal.
The 2001 edition of the Confederations Cup, held in Japan and South Korea, was won by then reigning world and European champions France. Robert Pires ended as Player of the Tournament and he also won the Golden Shoe for being top scorer.
That France squad was incredibly strong, yet didn’t include the likes of Zidane and Thierry Henry. A full cast was in place, however, for the World Cup a year later but France imploded and were, shockingly, knocked out in the group stages.
And so a trend began.
France would host and win the 2003 Confederations Cup while two years later, in Germany, an effervescent Brazil side, which included the likes of Kaka, Robinho, Ronaldinho and Adriano, who finished top scorer with five goals, defeated Argentina 4-1 in the final to come away victorious.
Come the World Cup in 2006 Brazil were one of the favourites. It was a squad packed full of young talent but also included the likes of Ronaldo, Cafu, Roberto Carlos
But, under the guidance of Carlos Alberto Parreira, the side never truly clicked into gear. They lacked their traditional samba flair. Was there too much expectation? Perhaps. Brazil were knocked out in the quarter-finals by France.
From 2005 the Confederations Cup would be played every four years and would be held in the country hosting the next World Cup. So in 2009, South Africa were the hosts.
Spain were undoubtedly favourites to win the competition given they were reigning European champions and their squad was ludicrously strong. But it was Brazil, coached by Dunga, who were victorious. They beat the USA, who’d shocked Spain in the semi-final, 3-2.
And yet, come the 2010 World Cup, the Selecao again underwhelmed. Dunga’s Brazil were uninspiring and they were eliminated by eventual finalists Holland. Spain would go on to win the competition, perhaps learning lessons from their failure 12 months earlier.
In 2013 the Confederations Cup was played in Brazil. The hosts, managed by Luiz Felipe Scolari and powered by Neymar, won the competition after beating Spain 3-0 in the final. It appeared the stage was set for the World Cup to return to Brazil in 2014.
The Selecao made light work of their group and dispatched Chile in the last-16.
Neymar was the star and carried the weight of the country’s expectations manfully. But he suffered a fractured vertebrae in the quarter-final win over Colombia and was ruled out of the remainder of the tournament.
What occurred in the semi-final was virtually believable. Without their talisman, Brazil crumbled spectacularly. They were brutally beaten 7-1 by eventual champions Germany. It was a scoreline that shocked world football and one that Brazil took a long time to recover from.