Thursday, June 11, 2009

The SPAOTP Confederations Cup 2009 Pull-out

Welcome to the Some People Are On The Pitch Confederations Cup 2009 Preview. The tournament starts on Sunday in South Africa and features eight national teams from around the world. While regarded as a minor tournament it has grown in prestige and intensity since its inception in 1992. The coaches will field strong teams and it promises to act as the perfect tonic to football starved fanatics and aficionados of the international game.

History and overview

The Confederations Cup began life in 1992 in Saudi Arabia as the King Fahd Cup. Presumably it was hosted there as an attempt by the Saudis and FIFA to promote the game in the region (although we'd be prepared to stick our necks out and say that quite a lot of money changed hands). The inaugural tournament had four teams: The Saudis themselves, USA, Argentina and Cote d'Ivoire. The Ivorians were African Champions that year. The US were there, presumably, as part of their build up to hosting the World Cup in 1994. Argentina were Copa America winners in 1991 and won this competition by beating Saudi Arabia in the Final in Riyadh 3-1. Leonard Rodriguez, Claudio Caniggia and Diego Simeone scored for the Argentines while Saeed Al Owairan scored for the Saudis. You may remember him for that magnificent solo goal he scored in the '94 World Cup against Belgium.

In 1995 the competition (renamed the Intercontinental Cup) was expanded to include teams from Asia and Europe. The teams were divided into two groups of three and it was the UEFA 92 winners Denmark who won the competition. They beat Argentina in the Final and Michael Laudrup was a scorer in the Danes' 2-0 victory. In 1997 the competition finally arrived at its current title of Confederations Cup and expanded to a further eight teams, to include the champions of the Oceania (OFC) region, Australia. That year, Brazil were the winners.

In 1999 the tournament moved away from Saudi Arabia to Mexico although the Saudis were invited as Asian representatives despite not being the Asian champions. It was the host nation who took the honours after defeating Brazil 4-3 in the Final. 2001 saw the competition settle down to its semi-regular format of dress rehearsal for the World Cup hosts the following year. Japan & South Korea shared the hosting duties in a competition won by the reigning World and European champions France.

And it was the French who played host in 2003. Their second successive win was overshadowed by the tragic death of Cameroon midfielder Marc-Vivien Foe who collapsed during the semi-final against Colombia.

Finally, Germany hosted 2005 and Brazil won their second trophy. There was no competition in 2007 and the tournament seems to have settled into a four-yearly pattern consisting of the hosts, the current world champions and the winners of the CONCACAF, CONMEBOL, UEFA, AFC and OFC regional champions.

2009 Competition Format

There are two groups of four teams. Each team will play each other once. The top two from each group goes through to Stage 2. The winners from Stage 2 progress to the Final and the losers will play off for third place.


Group A

South Africa (Hosts)
It's fair to say that Bafana Bafana would be nowhere near qualifying for this tournament or indeed the World Cup were they not the hosts. The knives were out for new coach Joel Santana before he'd even started and the consensus is that South Africa will struggle. Benni McCarthy's stormy relationship with the national team seems to be going through a particularly bad patch and the Blackburn Rovers striker has been left out of the squad - a decision that may result in Santana's head if it backfires. Having said that, McCarthy's replacement, Bernard Parker, scored last Saturday against Poland and South Africa won the match 1-0.

The draw has been kind to the hosts. They have been placed in the weaker group and they don't have to play Spain until the final game. If they can get something out of Iraq in their first fixture, they look good for Stage 2.

Iraq (AFC)
All right thinking football fans should have been moved by Iraq's stunning victory in the Asian Championships in 2007. Since then it's been pretty much downhill. Their progress to the World Cup was halted by Qatar in the qualification rounds (despite the fact that the Qataris use Brazilian ringers and fielded an ineligible player but let's not get into that). After that they failed to win a match. On the plus side their coach Bora Milutinovic is a veteran of tournament football and who knows, maybe Younis Mahmood, the goal-scoring hero of Jakarta, will rise to the occasion once again.

New Zealand (OFC)
Up until this week, there was not much to say about the All Whites. Oceana is an incredibly weak region, which is reflected by them only being awarded half a place in the World Cup. Having said that, New Zealand shocked Italy in a friendly last night. They didn't win but they ran them close. The final score was 4-3 to Italy! Perhaps if they'd had their best player, Ryan Nelsen of Blackburn in the defence they might have won. He is injured and not in the squad. The only other players you may of heard of are Chris Killen of Celtic unless, of course, you recall our A-League Spotlight earlier in the year in which case you'll be interested that last season's League's top scorer Shane Smeltz will line up against Spain next week.

Spain (UEFA)
The European champions are playing the rest of the continent's heads like a pair of bongos at the moment. What is there to say about Spain that has not already been said? They are awesome! A brilliant team of brilliant players playing brilliantly. They haven't lost a game of football since a friendly against Romania in November 2006 (Two Thousand And Six). Don't be surprised if Vicente Del Bosque fully utilises his squad in the early stages and leaves the likes of David Villa, Fernando Torres, Xavi et al on the bench until the later stages.

Group B

MLS fans would liked to have seen more representation from the US domestic league from coach Bob Bradley. From a distance, Kenny Cooper's prolonged absence from the Nats seems a bit strange. Whither also Taylor Twellman? Perhaps our American readers can shed some light on this.

Instead, Coach Bradley has put together an assortment of journeyman European-based players. The usual suspects include Jay Demerit (Watford), DaMarcus Beasley (Scottish team), Clint Dempsey (Cottage legend) and Michael Bradley (bosses son). So far so humdrum. However, there are some players in the squad that may yet get the pulses racing. These include Jozy Altidore (the next Freddy Adu), Freddy Adu (The old Jozy Altidore) and Francisco Torres of Pachuca in Mexico. Plus with Tim Howard between the sticks and Landon Donovan slotting home those last minute penalties, the Gringos could expect to finish second in Group A. It's just a shame that they're in Group B.

Italy (World Champions)
Seems strange to look down an Italian squad list before an international tournament and not find Juventus' Grande Capitano, Alex Del Piero among the names. I suppose we will have to get used to it. The world champions' form going into this competition is not the best. Unconvincing draws with Ireland and Greece along with defeat to Brazil in a recent friendly (not to mention the bizarre game against New Zealand last night) suggests that Italy are in transition.

Coach Marcello (Count) Lippi has drawn on the likes of Gattusso, Pirlo, Zambrotta, Camoranesi and Cannavaro for experience and they'll be tough to beat. However, it will be interesting to see what the pacy Egyptians will make of their back line. Also, the front pair of Gilardino and Luca Toni have something to prove. Still, on the surface you'd expect the Azzuri to progress. At the least they'll be relieved to have avoided New Zealand.

Coach Dunga is a man who is constantly under even more pressure than your average Brazil manager. Criticism of his tactics and some indifferent results earlier in the World Cup qualifying campaign have left the former Cup winner vulnerable. The last two games should go some way in lifting the mood. A 3-0 spanking of whipping boys Peru was followed by an historic 4-0 victory against Uruguay in Montevideo (a place where Brazil never win).

Dunga has picked a full strength side for what will hopefully be an excellent sighter for their challenge next year. Robinho, Kaka, Dani Alves are all coming. So too is Milan wonderkid Alexandre Pato. This is also a chance for the young Nilmar to get the scouts pens scratching as he bids to make a big move to Europe.

Notable absentees are the fading genius Ronaldinho and the Bundesbag is personally disappointed that Diego can't be squeezed in somewhere but you can't have everything. Either way it's a squad to match the world's best and assuming they finish top, looks set for a mouth watering clash with Spain in the Final, depending on the attitude of the players.

Egypt (CAF)

The north Africans preparation for their trip south could not have been worse. They suffered a 3-1 defeat in their latest World Cup qualifier against their bitter rivals Algeria. The two nations share an acrimonious political history and defeat represents a national disgrace to the loser. Apparently the team were awful and as a consequence a return to South Africa one year hence is in doubt. It is suggested that the great squad that won back-to back African Cup Of Nations may be approaching its end.

Mido has been dropped for the tournament and Zaki has just had to pull out due to injury. Coach Hassan Shehata will be looking to Borussia Dortmund striker Mohammed Zidan. Add to that and they're in a stinker of a group. Perhaps the memory of Blida will be enough to spur them on?


Despite the condescending whinges of the western football media, South Africa will be ready for 2010. There are four stadiums in use for the Confederations Cup: Ellis Park (venue for the 1995 Rugby World Cup Final) in Johannesburg; the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein;
which is in Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenberg and Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria as opposed to Loftus Road which backs onto South Africa Road in Shepherds Bush.

All venues are at high altitude so the participating teams who return next year should gain from the experience of playing in this competition.

Group Fixtures

June 14 16:00 - Johannesburg
South Africa v Iraq

June 14
20:30 - Rustenburg
New Zealand v Spain

June 15 16:00 - Mangaung/Bloemfontein
Brazil v Egypt

June 15 20:30 - Tshwane/Pretoria
USA v Italy

June 17 16:00 - Mangaung/Bloemfontein

Spain v Iraq

June 17
20:30 - Rustenburg
South Africa v New Zealand

June 18 16:00 - Tshwane/Pretoria
USA v Brazil

June 18 20:30 - Johannesburg
Egypt v Italy

June 20 20:30 - Johannesburg

Iraq v New Zealand

June 20
20:30 - Mangaung/Bloemfontein
Spain v South Africa

June 21 20:30 - Tshwane/Pretoria
Italy v Brazil

June 21 20:30 - Rustenburg
Egypt v USA

Stage 2 fixtures take place on 24th and 25th June. The Final and Third Place Play-Off will be played on 28th June.

TV Coverage

ESPN will be covering the competition in the US and if you ever hear a UK-based football fan complain about the TV License fee again, please direct them to the fact that every game will be covered live on BBC3. More details will be covered in our Confederations Cup TV Preview Special.


Kartik said...

Torres is probably the most gifted American from a technical standpoint. Pachuca for those who don't follow football in this part of the world is pretty much the elite team in North America, much like a Barca, Man U, etc in UEFA- they've won CONCACAF's Champions League in 2006 and 2007, won the Mexican League a number of times and won the regular season Clausura title this year before falling in the final two weeks ago. They also won the Copa Sudamericana in 2005 (The South American version of the UEFA Cup).

Thus Torres is really the only current American getting significant playing time at a top club abroad. We've had Claudio Reyna at Rangers, Hejduk at Leverkusen, Kirovski at Dortmund or Beasley at PSV back in the day, but now other than Torres your term "journeyman player" fits this squad like a glove.

So that's where we are. Our most creative players are Torres (21), Adu (19) and an out of form Benny Feilhaber.

I had high hopes for our side in this competition several months ago but now just feel happy to be participating.

redduffman said...

Thanks for your insight Kartik. I hope you enjoy the tournament despite your concerns.

Ian said...

Great preview - Interesting to see I won't be the only one following it.

Chris O said...

Far from it, Ian, and thank you. So where in the world will you be following the event from?

Ian said...

From not too far away, Ireland :)

Spain to win for me!

Chris O said...

Spain are certainly well worth putting your money on where this competition's concerned.

Keep up the good work with your site, Ian!

Jonathan (Just-Football) said...

Thoroughly enjoyed that. Great preview, and very detailed :-)

I always find it odd that Egypt seem to dominate the African Cup of Nations but then flop when it comes to World Cup qualifiers. Anyone with any ideas as to why??



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