Mini World Cup puts teams and organisers to the test
The FIFA Confederations Cup 2001 takes place from 30 May to 10 June in Korea and Japan. Both host nations see the competition as a major test ahead of the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™. For the Mexicans, on the other hand, it will be about defending their title against the other seven teams.
When team captain Claudio Suárez lifted the trophy in front of a sell-out 110,000 crowd in the Aztec Stadium in Mexico City on the evening of 4 July 1999, there were uninhibited scenes of celebration. To the delight of the home fans, "El Tri", Mexico's young national team, had defeated the seemingly invincible Brazilians by four goals to three in the final. Seven goals in an hour of play, four for a Mexican team playing with almost unbridled passion, set the seal on a tournament whose 16 matches attracted almost a million spectators to the two stadiums. Staged by FIFA for the first time just two years earlier, this meeting of continental champions had come of age. The rapidly increasing importance attached to the tournament by the competing teams was registered most of all by the Germans, who went home early following defeats against Brazil and the United States and a laborious victory over New Zealand.
Although the history of the Confederations Cup does not start officially until 1997 (when Ronaldo and Romario each scored three times in Brazil's 6-0 win over Australia in the final), it did have its predecessors. In 1992 Argentina, with a young Gabriel Batistuta and Diego Simeone in their side, won through against three other continental champions in matches played in the splendid King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh. The Intercontinental Champions Cup 1995 went to Denmark, who overcame hosts Saudi Arabia with the Laudrup brothers, Michael and Brian, at the helm.
The Confederations Cup, which had already taken on the guise of a "mini World Cup" to be used by national coaches for fine-tuning their teams, will have a special touch in 2001. For the six stadia in Korea and Japan chosen as venues, the tournament serves as the acid test as far as FIFA is concerned. Apart from the International Stadium in Yokohama, which will stage the World Cup Final on 30 June 2002, a number of grounds outside the major centres are being tested. In Japan the grounds in question are at Ibaraki and Niigata, while in fellow host country Korea, Daegu, Ulsan and Suwon have been selected.
Roger Lemerre is not complaining
This year's tournament enjoys special status among all eight competing nations. For FIFA it represents a trial run under competition conditions at venues that will be the focus of the football world's attention 12 months later. For the host football associations and the associated World Cup Organising Committees it is an ideal opportunity for testing the structures in place and the efficiency of their collaboration, even if the unique dimensions and requirements of an occasion such as the FIFA World Cup™ make it impossible to simulate.
Almost all the competing teams will be in test mode, too. The tournament offers hosts Korea and Japan and World Champions France an ideal change from their everyday routine, which consists of a long string of friendlies without any qualifying matches. Whereas Korea and Japan aim to put the fear of God into the rest of the world by selecting their best possible teams, French national coach Roger Lemerre will not be complaining simply because most of his key players will be unavailable in the Far East due to club commitments. Lemerre considers the Confederations Cup a valuable part of his preparations for the World Cup and has decided to make a virtue out of necessity by using it as an opportunity for putting a young squad through its tournament paces.
Are Canada like Australia?
The Brazilian coach Emerson Leão, who kept goal for Brazil 82 times in a ten-year international career, also views the tournament as a further chance to run the rule over his massive 60-man squad in between World Cup qualifiers and the Copa América, before picking his final squad at the end of the year.
Ever present since 1995, Mexico will be competing for the Confederations Cup once again, this time in the role of title-holders, not as CONCACAF Champions. And they will be giving their all to take the striking trophy home with them for a second time.
The appearance of African Champions Cameroon gives plenty of reasons for excitement. Their Olympic triumph in Sydney has raised the expectations placed on coach Jean-Paul Akono's squad by fans not only in Cameroon but also in the whole of Africa.
And the two outsiders? Canada are the only competing nation that will definitely not be involved in the World Cup next year. For the surprise winners of the CONCACAF Gold Cup 2000, who are coached by the German Holger Osieck, the main priorities in Korea and Japan will be to make amends for the disappointment of their World Cup qualifying campaign, to gather urgently needed international experience and to make a completely new start.