Football fans across the globe are buzzing with excitement in the run-up to Sunday's FIFA Confederations Cup final between Brazil and Spain. All the indicators point to a potential classic for the ages at the legendary Maracana, with the hosts boasting unparalleled international pedigree and Vicente del Bosque's world and European champions continuing to set the standard for excellence.
The match will be the ninth FIFA Confederations Cup final, after the tournament was first launched in 1992. Since then, several deciders have left indelible memories, and FIFA.com now takes a trip back in history to highlight four of the greatest moments from showpiece games at the Festival of Champions.
Blanco provides breathing space
After the first three editions were held in Saudi Arabia, Mexico hosted the competition in 1999, and El Tri were given passionate backing as they faced holders Brazil in the final. An incredible 110,000 supporters turned up to watch their heroes crown their superb campaign in the decider, which remained in the balance just beyond the hour mark when Rafael Marquez strode forward to the edge of Brazil's area. With his side winning 3-2, Marquez laid the ball off to Cuauhtemoc Blanco, who danced past Odvan and sent a superb effort past Dida to notch a vitally important 62nd-minute effort. Ze Roberto reduced the deficit almost instantly, but it was not enough to prevent Brazil from surrendering their crown.
"When I went forward to attack, I was only thinking about passing the ball to the right team-mate," said Marquez. "Blanco did what he had to do and scored the goal. When I think about all the titles I've won in my career, I tell myself that the Confederations Cup was the most important, because we played it at home and in front of our own fans. I'll never forget that title."
Mexico thus emerged victorious courtesy of a 4-3 victory high on goals and spectacle. As for Blanco, his strike moved him level with Ronaldinho and Saudi Arabia's Marzouk Al Otaibi at the top of the scoring charts, though it was the Brazil forward who claimed the adidas Golden Shoe thanks to his superior assists tally. The Mexican great can nonetheless pride himself on being one of the competition's most prolific marksman overall, having already helped himself to a trio of goals in 1997.
Henry's golden goal
France were under acute pressure when they hosted the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2003, the joy of their victory in the 2001 edition having been rapidly extinguished by their group stage exit at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™. Despite missing absent maestro Zinedine Zidane, Les Bleus made their quality count as they advanced to the final at the iconic Stade de France, where Cameroon lay in wait. With neither team able to register after 90 minutes, the game headed into extra time, and seven minutes into the first instalment Lilian Thuram broke menacingly down the right – just as he had done to score twice against Croatia in the 1998 FIFA World Cup semi-finals. This time, however, he sent a ball in behind the defence looking for Thierry Henry. The former Arsenal forward was positioned awkwardly but used all his goalscoring acumen to steer the ball in with his thigh.
As the golden goal rule applied at the time, Henry's strike settled the game – and made him the first and only player to score a golden goal in the FIFA Confederations Cup. The France striker also walked away with the adidas Golden Shoe as top scorer and adidas Golden Ball for the tournament's best player, but he and his team-mates had much more on their minds than silverware. They had lost a friend during the tournament, after the tragic death of Cameroon's Marc-Vivien Foe during the semi-finals, and Les Bleus insisted on inviting their opponents to join them during the trophy presentation. So it was that Marcel Desailly and Rigobert Song held the cup aloft together on an unforgettable night.
Decisive early strikes
With a year to go before the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Germany warmed up for their role as hosts by holding the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup, and the tournament reached its climax in front of a packed crowd in Frankfurt. For the first time in the history of the competition – and the sole occasion until Brazil met Uruguay in the semi-finals this year – two South American sides locked horns on the pitch, A Seleção pitting their wits against arch-rivals Argentina.
Derby contests tend to tense and taut affairs, but Brazil exploded out of the blocks in Frankfurt as Adriano and Kaka both hit the target in quick succession. The opener came after just 11 minutes, with Adriano receiving possession, spinning around and leaving his marker in his wake before arrowing a thunderous shot into the net. Argentina were then stunned again shortly afterwards when Brazil quickly shifted the ball from right to left and Kaka finished things off with another superb strike from the edge of the area.
Clearly in determined mood, Brazil continued doling out punishment as Ronaldinho and Adriano added further goals, with only Pablo Aimar able to muster a response for La Albiceleste. Adriano ended the tournament with the adidas Golden Shoe and adidas Golden Ball, while Kaka's exquisite contribution was later voted the second greatest goal in FIFA Confederations Cup history by FIFA.com users.
Brazil must have thought they would have things easy when they lined up against the USA in the South Africa 2009 showpiece, the Stars and Stripes having upset fearsome UEFA EURO 2008 winners Spain in the last four. If they did, they were quickly disabused of the notion, the USA racing into a 2-0 lead with half an hour gone. On the rack at the interval, A Seleção were forced to apply all their talent and composure to turn things around in the second period.
Luis Fabiano was the man who rode to Brazil's rescue, plundering a pair of goals to draw them level. The South Americans then turned up the pressure as they looked to make their momentum count, and it was captain and defender Lucio who sealed the team's third FIFA Confederations Cup title as he headed in an Elano corner.
"It was as if something exploded inside of me," said Lucio afterwards. "I ran towards Elano and everyone else joined us. It was a magical moment for me and one that I'll never forget. We clawed our way back from two goals down before winning the match thanks to our fighting spirit. I waited a long time to lift a trophy as captain, and my dream came true at the Confederations Cup."
The celebrations were not over for the centre-back either, as he was also voted into the team of the tournament by FIFA.com users and topped the Castrol Index.