As 1994 world champions, Brazil were clear favourites heading into the final of FIFA Confederations Cup 1997 against Australia, a tag they subsequently justified with a memorable 6-0 rout of the Socceroos. Ronaldo, who scored a hat-trick that day, and former team-mate Bebeto take a look back at what was Brazil’s first triumph in the competition and talk about the expectations surrounding the next edition to be held in their homeland in exactly one year.
What did the 1997 edition of the FIFA Confederations Cup mean to both of you?
Ronaldo: It meant a great deal as it was my second title as a starter with A Seleção. It was a very good period for the team, which was hitting its stride again. The partnership with O Baixinho (Romario) worked really well, so it was, unquestionably, one of my best times with the national team.
Bebeto: I started two or three games I recall. The FIFA Confederations Cup will be the start of everything for the players, especially those who haven’t yet competed at a FIFA World Cup. Back in1997, I’d already been part of the Brazil side that won the country’s fourth world title [three years earlier], but it served to give us a taste of what was to come in 1998. In fact, that 1997 side made up 90 per cent of the team at France 1998. In '97, I showed that, despite my age (33), I was still good enough to continue helping Brazil – so much so, in fact, that in 1998 I got a starting berth and played in every game.
Was the 1997 tournament a major test for A Seleção ahead of the FIFA World Cup the following year?
Ronaldo: Yes it was. Having not played any qualifying games for France 1998 [as defending champions], we lacked some of the rhythm that competitions give you. We then had the Copa America followed by the FIFA Confederations Cup, both of which we won, allowing [then coach Mario] Zagallo to just fine tune the team for France 98.
Bebeto: The FIFA Confederations Cup is always a tough test. It lets the players see what they can expect to face later and to prepare for it. It’s the starting point and the moment when the penny drops, especially for the youngest players. Moreover, it allows you to experience the atmosphere of the World Cup host nation and also to adapt to the squad and coaching staff.
What is your main expectation for next year’s edition?
Ronaldo: I have very good expectations. To be able to present six stadiums to the world, something no single country has done previously for a FIFA Confederations Cup, is very positive. If you think about it, it will be a big test for half the stadiums that will be hosting the FIFA World Cup the following year.
Bebeto: I’m expecting a great FIFA Confederations Cup. The team will be practically ready, which will make it a very attractive proposition for the public. Moreover, as member of the Local Organising Committee alongside Ronaldo, I’m enthusiastic not just for the national team, but also from an organisational standpoint. We’re doing everything necessary to make this a competition of the highest order both on and off the pitch. We want to show that we’re not just capable of playing football, but also of promoting a FIFA World Cup. As a Baiano (native of Bahia), I’m also pleased that Salvador will be one of the six host cities for the Confederations Cup. Bahia people love their football and always fill the stadiums. It will be a great success and a source of delight for them to receive the new Arena Fonte Nova, with its assigned seating and high quality pitch.
With the current FIFA World Cup holders Spain and at least two former world champions - Brazil and Uruguay - certain to take part, is next year’s tournament shaping up to be the most evenly balanced ever?
Ronaldo: Without a doubt. What global event brings together the likes of Brazil, Spain, Uruguay, Mexico and maybe even Germany, Italy, England or France? With four former world champions, that would be no ordinary competition. Any side that puts on impressive displays at the Confederations Cup will certainly be among the favourites in 2014.
Bebeto: Yes I believe so. I’m following EURO 2012 at present and feel we’ll have four world champions in Brazil next year. Germany, for example, are doing really well. Even aside from that, it’s set to be a very competitive edition. Brazil will be able to show off their potential, just like the other nations there too.
Are Brazil favourites for the title in 2013 or does that remain to be seen during the event itself?
Ronaldo: Brazil are in a period of rebuilding. We’ll be competing at the Olympic Games with a very strong generation of players who will be gaining international experience and who should form the nucleus of the team for the Confederations Cup. That competition will be very important in terms of fine tuning the team further for 2014. I believe Brazil are always favourites, but we’ll have demonstrate why out on the pitch, as this will be a very even tournament.
Bebeto: Brazil are always favourites when it comes to football, regardless of the competition. We have a very strong tradition and are the only team to have won five world titles. The other teams taking part will be worried when they see those yellow shirts. I’ll be really cheering the team on to a tetracampeonato (fourth title) in 2013. I’ve already experienced that with Flamengo and with A Seleção. Can you imagine if I were to do it again, this time with the Confederations Cup, as a member of the LOC?