Tragically, Africa's performances at the FIFA Confederations Cup have been overshadowed in the memory by the death of Cameroon midfielder Marc-Vivien Foe, who died shortly after collapsing during the Indomitable Lions' 2003 semi-final against Colombia. Not knowing the extent of the drama that was being played out in the medical centre in the Stade de Gerland in Lyon, where frantic efforts were underway to save the life of the 28-year-old, the two sides continued the game and the west Africans held on to the 1-0 lead that Pius Ndiefi-Sielenu had given them early in the match to qualify for the final of the 2003 competition.
It remains the only time that an African nation has advanced to the final of the Festival of Champions. The match itself, against hosts France, was amid a sombre atmosphere, with players from both sides mindful of the sorrow Foe's death had caused throughout the football family. The contest was finally decided through Thierry Henry's golden goal in the 97th minute, and it was celebrated in subdued fashion by Les Bleus. Foe was further remembered during the awards ceremony as Cameroon players held a large photograph of the Lyon player and hung a medal on it. French captain Marcel Desailly also did not lift the trophy into the air, as is customary, instead sharing it with his Cameroonian counterpart Rigobert Song and both sides walked around the pitch together with the photo instead of running a lap of honour.
Cameroon had beaten Brazil in their opening game and topped their group, but coach Winfried Schaefer said after that all of that paled into insignificance after the tragedy. "How can one explain it? Beating Brazil in our first game, then losing Marc-Vivien Foe under such tragic circumstances. In all my life in professional football I have never had to deal with anything like that. After the match I could not help my side. I needed help myself," he said at the time.
The only other time that an African team managed to escape the group phase of the FIFA Confederations Cup was in the last edition, when the hosts South Africa beat New Zealand and drew with Iraq to finish second behind Spain. Bafana Bafana then came to within two minutes of holding eventual champions Brazil to a draw, only to go down to a late Dani Alves goal.
In the third-place play-off, the hosts again faced Spain and were leading 1-0 with two minutes to go. However, in a dramatic finale, Dani Guiza first equalised, then put his side ahead a minute later, only to see Katlego Mphela's scorching second goal of the match force extra time. Xabi Alonso ended up with the winner for La Roja, who went on to win the FIFA World Cup™ a year later.
For South Africa's Brazilian coach Joel Santana the Confederations Cup was the ideal warm-up for the World Cup they hosted in 2010. "We played very well, and it was a good preparation for Bafana Bafana."
In all my life in professional football I have never had to deal with anything like that. After the match I could not help my side. I needed help myself.
Rough beginnings for Africa
Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria each finished fourth in the first two events, which were smaller and then known as the King Fahd Cup, while South Africa were the first team to play in the competition after FIFA took over the organisation in 1997. Bafana Bafana, who a year earlier had won the CAF Africa Cup of Nations managed to hold the Czech Republic to a 2-2 draw, but then slumped to defeats against United Arab Emirates and Uruguay to be eliminated - finishing bottom of their group. Two years later, Egypt represented the continent in Mexico and the Pharaoh's also failed to win a game and finished last in their group after drawing with Bolivia and Mexico and slumping to a 5-1 defeat against Saudi Arabia in the decisive game – leaving Africa with just one win (Nigeria’s triumph over Japan in 1995) in nine matches at that point.
In the first FIFA Confederations Cup held as a trial run for an approaching FIFA World Cup, Japan hosted the 2001 edition, and Cameroon, with Foe playing all three games, doubled Africa’s win total when the Indomitable Lions beat Canada 2-0 in their final group game, having earlier lost to Brazil and the host nation. Bernard Tchoutang and Patrick Mboma scored the goals for the Africans, who finished third in their group behind Brazil and Japan, but ahead of the Canadians.
In 2005, the tournament was hosted by Germany, and Tunisia, who had won the CAF Africa Cup of Nations at home a year earlier, represented the continent. Defeats in their opening two matches against Argentina and Germany saw the Carthage Eagles eliminated ahead of their final group game against Australia. However, Brazilian-born Santos scored either side of the break to give the North Africans a morale-boosting victory and third place in the table.
And in 2013, Nigeria will become the third nation after South Africa and Cameroon to make their second appearance in the event. The Super Eagles are no doubt hoping to go further than either and finally win the tournament for Africa.