Peter Pedroncelli analyses the rich history of the Confederations Cup, which kicks-off in South Africa this summer...Whilst it may only have been called the Confederations Cup since 1997, the history of the tournament can be traced back to the 1980s when a number of tournaments were conceived to bring together the winners of regional competitions in an attempt to establish an out-right winner.
The first inception of the tournament occurred in 1980 when the various winners of the World Cups were brought together in Uruguay to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first ever tournament.
It wasn't until 1997 that FIFA brought the competition under its own organisation, scheduling it on a two-yearly basis to bring together the winners from the confederations. Since 2001 the tournament has also been used as a dress-rehearsal for the forthcoming World Cup, and that theme has become the dominant factor as the tournament is now played on a four-yearly basis to allow the host country to prepare for its duties a year later.
Whilst many attempt to read form for the forthcoming World Cup into Confederations Cup success or failure, the truth is that it's seldom an accurate guide to what might happen in 12 months time. The tournament, because of its aim of bringing together the most successful recent sides, tends to attract the biggest names in world football, but is often used for the larger sides as a chance to experiment, often electing to give fringe members a run-out.
The tournament has also been a chance for some of the smaller nations to punch above their weight. Australia appeared in the final of the 1997 tournament, and the Socceroos stunned the world at large by beating both France and Brazil in 2001. It's also a most useful exercise for the hosts of the tournament to gain some experience of playing tournament football having been consigned to playing friendlies previously.
The Confederations Cup has struggled to live up to its billing as the ultimate tournament to decide the World's top footballing nation with the feel more of a glorified friendly tournament. Furthermore some teams have waived their right to appear at the finals with Germany turning down a spot in 1997 and 2003 and France in 1999 thus reducing its lustre further.
Despite that it's been a competition that has seen some exciting matches. The thrilling 4-3 final win that Mexico recorded over Brazil in the final of the 1999 tournament is one that will live in the memory, likewise the superb performances that Brazil, who have reserved some of their best form for the tournament, displayed during both 1997 and 2005.
The tournament has also been tainted with tragedy following the death of Cameroon midfielder Marc-Vivien Foe in the 2003 edition. The former West Ham, Manchester City and Olympique Lyonnais player collapsed during the semi-final against Colombia. With friends and colleagues of Foe involved in the final on both sides when France met Cameroon it promised to be an emotional end to the tournament. A shared victory podium between France and Cameroon after the hosts' 1-0 victory in Paris was a fitting tribute.
Few FIFA tournaments have such a convoluted past as the Confederations Cup. Its first fore-runner was a one-off tournament hosted at the turn of 1980 called the Mundialito. It brought together five winners of the World Cup, with England turning down their invitation to participate, and their place being taken by the Netherlands. History repeated itself in the tournament with Uruguay running out winners over Brazil, indicating right from the outset of the competition that victory doesn’t necessarily seal a side’s status as the world’s best.
Attempts to bring together the winners of the Copa America with the winners of the European Championships were successful in 1985 and 1993. Known as the Artemio Franchi Trophy after the former UEFA President it was assumed in 1995 into a wider tournament held in 1992 for the first time in Saudi Arabia. Called the King Fahd Cup, that earlier competition attempted to bring together the winners of various tournaments. Argentina took the glory in 1992, and as participation was expanded three years later to extend the tournament from a four team tournament to a six team tournament, Denmark prevailed in 1995.
In 1997 FIFA stepped in to grant the tournament official status, and returned the first staging to Saudi Arabia. The first eight team tournament was claimed by Brazil in arguably their best performance for many seasons. A Selecaõ combining the old vanguard from the 1994 winning side such as Romario, Dunga and Cafu was perfectly complimented by rising stars such as Denilson and Ronaldo. They may have lost to Australia in the group stage, but they had their revenge in the final putting the Socceroos to the sword 6-0.
Brazil were involved in the finals again two years later when the tournament relocated from the Middle East being staged for the first time outside the Middle East in Mexico. The host nation was too strong for Brazil in the final running out 4-3 winners in a memorable final.
2001 was the first time the Confederations Cup was used as a dress-rehearsal for the World Cup, due to be held in Japan and Korea 12 months later. France took glory at the tournament illustrating that form in the Confederations Cup is not a blueprint for success at the World Cup itself. Twelve months later Les Bleus tumbled out of the World Cup without scoring a goal, whilst Brazil struggled to make an impact in the Confederations Cup, but ended up winning the World Cup a year later.
The tournament has since come to Europe on the last two occasions. France was the venue for 2003, and whilst the enduring memory will be those harrowing images of that fateful semi-final between Cameroon and Colombia, it was still an enjoyable tournament with some excellent goals. Two years later and Germany staged a dry-run of the World Cup. Germany served notice of their intentions to create an impact on their home tournament, but it was the South American pair of Argentina and Brazil who grabbed the headlines. They served up an excellent final in a torrential downpour in Frankfurt, with Brazil overcoming their arch-rivals 4-1 paying them back for a World Cup qualifying defeat just a few weeks earlier. The 2005 tournament also highlighted the attacking nature of the games, perhaps encouraged by the lower stakes. An impressive average of 3.5 goals is a record for the tournament.
Fans and pundits alike will be hoping that the 2009 South Africa tournament can live up to its predecessors. With some intriguing participants including Spain and Iraq, who both take part for the first time, its certain to be an exciting fore-taste of things to come in 2010.
Peter Pedroncelli, Goal.com