Confederations Cup: Brief history and preview

By Online Editorial

Dave Farrar tells us about the creation and history of the Confederations Cup, the format for this year’s edition and who our money should be on before the tournament gets under way.

The common consensus in the sporting world is that there are no major football tournaments this summer and that, once the latest round of World Cup qualifiers are completed, that will be it until the Premier League restarts in August.

That’s both a bit disrespectful to the Confederations Cup, and also a sign of how little an impact the tournament has made since it was officially introduced in 1997. It’s a shame, as the idea of a genuine competition between the champions of each continent, the reigning World Champions, and the hosts of the next World Cup, should become a mini World Cup, giving us the chance to take fewer games to work out who the best in the world is at a given time.

In essence, it ought to be a litmus test between World Cups and European Championships and would have worked perfectly in the days before so many more demands were made on footballers’ time. Now, it has the feel of a FIFA-led irrelevance.

There were a few stabs at this kind of Intercontinental Championship before it became the Confederations Cup that people know and don’t love: it started as the Artemio Franchi trophy between the European Champions France and Copa America winners Uruguay in 1985, and limped along as a one off game with two out of the four matches won by South American teams, until the Confederations Cup was officially launched in 1997 in Riyadh.

Brazil thrashed Australia in the final that year, Mexico won as hosts in 1999, and then France, having refused to play in January 1999, proceeded to win the next two Cups, in Japan and then at home, in a tournament which will always be remembered for the death of Marc-Vivien Foe.

To this day, I still believe that FIFA’s decision to continue with the 2003 tournament after that day in Lyon was the most self-interested, despicable act that I have ever witnessed in sport. If the roll of Confederations Cup winners read “2003: not awarded” it would cause people to ask why, and would make future generations realise that something far more serious than football happened that year.

In 2005, Brazil thrashed Argentina 4-1 to round off an excellent tournament, and to reassert the supremacy of the South American nations, meaning that a team from that part of the world had won a second Confederations Cup.

That last tournament worked as a rehearsal for the World Cup hosts Germany and that theme continues after a four year gap in South Africa this year, with eight teams lining up to test out just how far the 2010 hosts have got in their plans for next summer.

With some nervousness in the rest of the world about South Africa’s preparations, the Confederations Cup of 2009 will have the extra bit of media interest, albeit for the wrong reasons, that FIFA has always craved. It will be fascinating to hear the bulletins coming out of South Africa from the likes of betting.betfair.com’s very own Jonathan Wilson who will blogging on a daily basis.

For those of you used to an Alan Partridge style attempt to decipher the route to a World Cup Final, the Confederations Cup format is pretty simple: two Groups of four, and 1st against 2nd to play in two semi finals, and so on.

The Groups look a little lopsided, with Spain facing South Africa, New Zealand and Iraq in Group A, and the USA, Italy, Brazil and Egypt making up Group B. The team that wins Group B will have a great chance of reaching the final, as only Iraq from the contenders for second place behind Spain would seem to have any chance of upsetting a bigger nation. Egypt will be tough opposition for the other Group B teams, and will have a serious chance of getting to the semi final, but there they are likely to meet Spain, and unless the European Champions are simply too tired, they will probably fall at that stage.

Coaches approach this Cup with differing levels of seriousness and expectation, but the fact that Brazil, Italy and Spain have picked strong squads mean that those three have great chances of making the semis, with the Asian Champions Iraq the likeliest other semi finalists.

Egypt are the most obvious fly in the ointment, and they could take advantage of a typically slow start by Italy, but I’m really not convinced that there’s too much value in opposing the three market leaders, with a Spain v Brazil final the most obvious outcome.

There’ll be plenty more betting advice to come in the next few days on betting.betfair.com, but my initial feeling is that Spain are too short at 2.62 to win outright, the African champions Egypt look huge at 44.0, and there must be a way to oppose a fairly poor South African side to qualify for the semi finals at 1.5.

Brazil were hugely impressive in the way that they thrashed Uruguay last week, and Italy look big in the outright market at 5.1, but Marcello Lippi’s mantra has been that they will peak next summer, and I suspect that he’s not as bothered as he might be about winning the dress rehearsal.

One thing that this tournament will provide, though, is high class football to watch before we head off for our summer fix of other sports: there’ll be betting opportunities, there’ll be wonderful talent on view, and for those reasons at least, we should all take the Confederations Cup a little closer to our hearts.

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