THE DAY REPLAYED – Fans heading for the stadiums in Paris and Lyon on Wednesday 18 June could have been excused for feeling a touch nostalgic. They were, after all, about to watch the opening matches of a "mini-World Cup", as FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter put it. On an exciting evening of football, Colombia went down fighting at Stade Gerland, Japan sparkled to record a resounding victory, and France recorded an encouraging win. With Cameroon, USA, Turkey and world champions Brazil waiting in the wings, we review the highlights of Day 1 of the first FIFA Confederations Cup to be staged in Europe.
Japan are off to a flyer. Two-goal hero Shunsuke Nakamura and his mates had a field day in Stade de France, giving New Zealand a footballing lesson and demonstrating just why they now belong among the game’s elite. The Kiwis had no answer to Nippon nip and tuck and will need to show more resilience if they are to extend their stay beyond the group stage.
Exactly one year ago, on 18 June 2002, Japan were knocked out of “their” FIFA World Cup by Turkey. The co-hosts left that competition with their heads held high, though, having given an excellent account of themselves, and new coach Zico is now reaping the rewards of that leap forward. His side put in a slick and accomplished performance today in Saint-Denis, much to the delight of their enthusiastic fans. Nakata’s silky skills seemed to particularly appeal to the female fans who have made the trip from Asia...
It was very much a case of déjà-vu for Colombia, who opened their campaign with a disappointing 1-0 defeat to hosts France, bringing back memories of a similarly narrow loss to Romania in their opening match in 1998. Coach Francisco Maturana will be left with a feeling of frustration because his side deserved better. The Bleus, meanwhile, will no doubt be feeling mightily relieved to have got a first win under their belts, and put last year’s Asian nightmare a little further behind them. But can they ride their luck all the way?
Thursday 19 June sees the opening exchanges in Group B, with Brazil making a competitive return to the scene of one of their most painful memories. The Seleçao are back as reigning world champions, and intent on proving a point. After their defeats today, points of a more numeric nature are uppermost in the minds of New Zealand and Colombia, who now meet in a crunch encounter on Friday.