THE DAY REPLAYED – New Zealand’s fate was already sealed, but Japan and Colombia still had it all to play for when the last set of games in Group A of the FIFA Confederations Cup kicked off on Sunday 22 June. And it was Francisco Maturana’s South American side who prevailed in Saint-Étienne to set up a semi-final clash with the winners of Group B. At the Stade de France, where the announcement of the birth of Fabien Barthez’s son brought the biggest cheer of the night, the courageous Kiwis said adieu to the competition after a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of the hosts. They are still searching for their first win in the competition.
With one side guaranteed a place in the final four, and the other already booked onto the first flight home, there was little more than pride at stake in Saint-Denis. As part of FIFA’s second world day against discrimination and racism, the two teams took time out prior to the match to pose together in front of a "Say No to Racism" banner. In the words of FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter: “Football has a unifying power that can and must be used to combat discrimination of all kinds.” By joining forces tonight, the players sent out a strong message that racism will not be tolerated in modern football.
The stadium announcer then delighted the crowd with the news that “Fabien Barthez is the father of a little boy called Lenny. He weighed in at three kilos and measures 50cm”. Unsurprisingly, the FIFA World Cup-winning goalkeeper of 1998 was not in the stadium to watch understudy Mickaël Landreau spend a quiet night between the posts. Apart from the very occasional scare, the Nantes keeper was rarely called into action, the All Whites spent most of their time desperately – and ultimately unsuccessfully – defending their own goal.
There was not much tension but lots of pleasant football at the Stade de France and the opposite could be said of the evening’s events at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard. Thanks to their superior goal average, Zico’s charges could be content with a draw from this decisive encounter, but that probably proved to be more of a hindrance than a help in the end. As usual, Colombia got off to a shaky start before suddenly finding their game in the second half, and once again Giovanni Hernandez proved the best player on the field. The Deportivo Cali man’s decisive goal propels the Cafetera into the semi-finals.
Japan, one of the most attractive sides in the tournament, are on their way home then, taking with them current tournament topscorer Shunsuke Nakamura, who did not play tonight. A single defensive error means the 2001 FIFA Confederations Cup finalists are leaving France prematurely. Group B teams - in action on Monday night - take note!