THE DAY REPLAYED – With four high calibre teams, Group B was always going to be an exciting affair, and so it proved in the opening games played on Thursday 19 June at Saint-Etienne and in Paris. USA and Turkey put on a fine display, showing they thoroughly deserve their current ranking in the football pecking order, while up-and-coming Brazilian and Cameroonian players battled for their places in front of their ‘home’ fans in the Stade de France. And the upshot of the evening’s entertainment? Europe and Africa have their noses out in front – for the moment.
Never before had a European side beaten a Central or North American side in a FIFA Confederations Cup tournament. Such was the challenge laid down for the Turks at Saint-Etienne for their first game in the competition. The sizeable Turkish contingent in the Geoffroy-Guichard crowd – both visitors from Turkey and French ex-pats – were left on tenterhooks till the dying seconds before witnessing history finally being made.
Senol Gunes’ charges ran out deserved winners in the end – but it was anything but easy. And if captain Bulent Korkmaz had not been on hand to head off the line from a Clint Mathis shot the Americans’ counter-attacking game would have paid off perfectly. Witness their superb goal, the work of speed merchants Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley. Custodian Tim Howard provided further proof that the USA has no shortage of talent between the posts.
The second match in Group B saw world champions Brazil take on Olympic and African champions Cameroon at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis. In front of a passionate crowd largely comprised of French-based South Americans and Africans, the two sides cancelled each other out for long periods, no doubt due to the new tactical plans being tried out by Carlos Alberto Parreira and “Winnie” Schaefer.
Just when it looked as though the game was headed for stalemate, up stepped man of the match Samuel Etoo to crash an 83rd minute winner and hand the Africans a first-ever win over the South Americans. The goal was rather reminiscent of Ray Houghton’s winner for Ireland over Italy in the FIFA World Cup USA 1994 and sparked similar scenes of delight among the Cameroon players. The Real Mallorca striker has a habit of scoring vital goals; remember his equaliser against Spain in the Final of the Men’s Football Tournament in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Six shots on target for Cameroon compared to just one for Brazil is probably the most telling stat of the evening - the Africans were the more penetrating outfit, and ran out worthy winners. At the final whistle the Stade de France was on its feet. After all, half the Cameroon players ply their trade in the French championship and were playing in front of their “home” crowd. Brazil’s PSG star Ronaldinho was given a warm send-off too – now could that be a sign that it’s au revoir Ronnie?