Brazil crowned on magical stage
It began with a ceremony that encapsulated Africa's unique, infectious culture. It incorporated magical skills, memorable goals, momentous upsets, and world-record runs being established and extinguished. It ended with Brazil recovering a two-goal deficit to edge USA in a thrilling, dramatic final.
If South Africa 2009 was viewed beforehand as a mere appetiser for next year's FIFA World Cup™, its sumptuous fare certainly ensured we will be savouring the taste all the way to 2010.
Ultimately, Brazil were worthy winners of a record third trophy. They cruised through Group B with three straight victories, scoring ten times in the process, before a solitary, late Daniel Alves free-kick sunk South Africa in the semi-finals.
It was in the decider, however, that A Seleção earned their grandest compliments, combining skill and spirit to prevail. When they went 2-0 down inside half an hour, the omens looked bleak. Brazil had been at a two-goal deficit on four previous occasions under Dunga. They had ended up losers on each of these.
But the 45-year-old's half-time team-talk evidently did the trick. Within seconds, Luis Fabiano had halved the American lead with a well-taken goal. O Fabuloso then restored parity in 74th minute, before Lucio emerged as the unlikely hero six minutes from time to make Dunga the only man to win the FIFA Confederations Cup as a player and coach.
"Like every final, it was very tough. But even when we went 2-0 down, we still believed we would win," said Dunga. "We were very determined. To come back from this deficit you need a team of men. I'm proud of my players."
Lucio and Luis Fabiano, who finished top of the Castrol Index and seized the adidas Golden Shoe respectively, both made handsome contributions to Brazil's conquest, as did Maicon, Robinho and Kaka, who was named Budweiser Man of the Match in the final and pocketed the adidas Golden Ball.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for USA, but they can take tremendous heart from a tournament in which they almost produced the mother of all revivals. Ahead of their arrival, few gave the Americans a chance of reaching the last four. Heading into their final Group B game, seemingly nobody did. They had lost 3-1 to Italy and 3-0 to Brazil and were seemingly devoid of organisation and intuition.
Bob Bradley's side confounded their critics in emphatic fashion, though, overwhelming an in-form Egypt team 3-0 to snatch a place in the semi-finals, before inflicting a first defeat in 36 games upon Spain. Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, both of whom excelled during the competition, then gave the US a two-goal lead against Brazil, before the aforementioned comeback.
"The feeling is of great disappointment, but also of great pride," reflected Bradley. "The experience for our players in South Africa has been very special. It's something we'll remember and use as motivation to be back here next year for the World Cup."
Although bronze, courtesy of a 3-2 reverse of South Africa, was less than Spain expected, the European champions did have their moments. Xavi, David Villa and Fernando Torres helped them illuminate the first phase, in which the last of their three successes took them on to 15 straight victories, an all-time record in international football, and 35 matches without defeat, which tied the unsurpassed sequence Brazil recorded between 1993 and 1996.
Italy's only reason for cheer came in their first outing, a 3-1 comeback win over USA which included two marvelous goals from substitute Giuseppe Rossi. From there it was all downhill for Marcello Lippi's side, who lost 1-0 to Egypt and 3-0 to Brazil. The former of these results was the first defeat Gli Azzurri had suffered by African opposition, and the Pharaohs also impressed in a 4-3 loss to Brazil in which Mohamed Aboutrika and Mohamed Zidan shone.
New Zealand were another team to triumph in elimination, drawing 0-0 with Iraq for their first point at a senior men's FIFA finals at the 12th time of asking. The Asian champions had done themselves credit by holding South Africa and only losing 1-0 to a Spain side top of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.
South Africa also had grand cause for celebration. The country conclusively proved itself capable of staging a major competition. Its national team proved itself capable of swimming with the big guns. Indeed, inspired by Teko Modise, Steven Pienaar and Bernard Parker, Bafana Bafana reached the semi-finals, where they gave the eventual champions a stern examination before losing 3-2 to Spain in extra time in the third-place play-off.
There can only be one champion, but this year's FIFA Confederations Cup had multiple winners. Among them, indubitably, were South Africa and the supporters it treated to a wonderful spectacle.