"Mini World Cup" is the acid test for all concerned
The FIFA Confederations Cup 2001 takes place from 30 May to 10 June inKorea and Japan. Both host nations see the competition as a major test aheadof the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™. For the Mexicans, on the otherhand, it will be about defending their title against the other seven teams.
When team captain Claudio Suárez lifted the trophy in front of asell-out 110,000 crowd in the Aztec Stadium in Mexico City on the evening of4 July 1999, there were uninhibited scenes of celebration. To the delight ofthe home fans, "El Tri", Mexico's young national team, had defeated theseemingly invincible Brazilians by four goals to three in the final. Sevengoals in an hour of play, four for a Mexican team playing with almostunbridled passion, set the seal on a tournament whose 16 matches attractedalmost a million spectators to the two host stadia. Staged by FIFA for thefirst time just two years earlier, this meeting of continental champions hadcome of age. The rapidly increasing importance attached to the tournament bythe competing teams was registered most of all by the Germans, who went homeearly following defeats against Brazil and the United States and a laboriousvictory over New Zealand.
Although the history of the Confederations Cups does not start officiallyuntil 1997 (when Ronaldo and Romario both scored three times in Brazil's 6-0win over Australia in the final), it did have its predecessors. In 1992Argentina, with a young Gabriel Batistuta and Diego Simeone in their side,won through against three other continental champions in matches played inthe splendid King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh. The Intercontinental Champions Cup1995 went to Denmark, who overcame hosts Saudi Arabia with the Laudrupbrothers, Michael and Brian, at the helm.
The Confederations Cup, which had already taken on the guise of a "miniWorld Cup" to be used by national coaches for fine-tuning their teams, willhave a special touch in 2001. For the six stadia in Korea and Japan chosenas venues, the tournament serves as the acid test as far as FIFA isconcerned. Apart from the International Stadium in Yokohama, which willstage the World Cup Final on 30 June 2002, a number of grounds outside themajor centres are being tested. In Japan the grounds in question are atIbaraki and Niigata, while in fellow host country Korea, Daegu, Ulsan andSuwon have been selected.
Roger Lemerre isn't complaining
This year's tournament enjoys special status among all eightcompeting nations. For FIFA it represents a trial run under competitionconditions at venues that will be the focus of the football world'sattention 12 months later. For the host football associations and theassociated World Cup Organising Committees it is an ideal opportunity fortesting the structures in place and the efficiency of their collaboration,even if the unique dimensions and requirements of an occasion such as theFIFA World Cup™ make it impossible to simulate.
Almost all the competing teams will be in test mode, too. The tournamentoffers hosts Korea and Japan and World Champions France an ideal change fromtheir everyday routine, which consists of a long string of friendlieswithout any qualifying matches. Whereas Korea and Japan aim to put the fearof God into the rest of the world by selecting their best possible teams,French national coach Roger Lemerre won't be complaining simply because mostof his key players will be unavailable in the Far East due to clubcommitments. Lemerre considers the Confederations Cup a valuable part of hispreparations for the World Cup and has decided to make a virtue out ofnecessity by using it as an opportunity for putting a young squad throughits tournament paces.
The Brazilian coach Emerson Leão, who kept goal for Brazil 82 times in aten-year international career, also views the tournament as a further chanceto run the rule over his massive 60-man squad in between World Cupqualifiers and the Copa América, before picking his final squad at the endof the year.
Are Canada like Australia?
Ever present since 1995, Mexico will be competing for theConfederations Cup once again, this time in the role of title-holders, notas CONCACAF Champions. And they will be giving their all to take thestriking trophy home with them for a second time.
The appearance of African Champions Cameroon gives plenty of reasons forexcitement. Their Olympic triumph in Sydney has raised the expectationsplaced on coach Jean-Paul Akono's squad by fans not only in Cameroon butalso in the whole of Africa.
And the two outsiders? Canada are the only competing nation that willdefinitely not be involved in the World Cup next year. For the surprisewinners of the CONCACAF Gold Cup 2000, who are coached by the German HolgerOsieck, the main priorities in Korea and Japan will be to make amends forthe disappointment of their World Cup qualifying campaign, to gatherurgently needed international experience and to make a completely new start.
At the end of 1997 the Australians found themselves in a similar position to the Canadians. After looking certain to qualify for the World Cup in France they lost out at the death, only to pick themselves up again and put on some fine performances to reach the final of the Confederations Cup in Riyadh a few months later. In view of the circumstances this year this feat will be difficult to repeat. Yet simply having the opportunity of pitting themselves against strong opposition means a lot to the Oceania Champions, who are coached by Frank Farina, a former professional with experience of playing inEurope.
The FIFA Confederations Cup Korea/Japan 2001 - a tournament that will whet the appetite of players and fans alike for the FIFA World Cup™ some 12 months later.