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Fifa’s Confederations Cup Matters Now

July 2nd, 2017 · No Comments · Fifa, Football, soccer, Spain

I remember the 2009 Confederations Cup, in South Africa, where the U.S. national team nearly won a global competition.

Bob Bradley’s Yanks shocked world-No. 1, unbeaten-in-35-matches Spain 2-0 in the semifinals (go back and read that again), then faced Brazil in the championship match and led 2-0 at half … before losing 3-2.

I noted, not long ago, how that tournament was the high-water mark in the U.S. national team’s history. They fell 45 minutes short of winning a Fifa cup competition.

But I would have conceded that, in 2009, the Confederations Cup didn’t quite feel like a really major thing. An interesting little tournament, something to help fill the summer ahead of the World Cup but not a life-changing competition.

Eight years later?

I am convinced the Confederations Cup has become a big deal. A trophy countries now care about winning.

Or it sure looked that way tonight, when Germany defeated Chile 1-0 in the championship match — and the Germans celebrated like they had won the World Cup … and the Chileans wept and wailed as if they had lost the same.

It was the final 20 minutes of the 2017 Confederations Cup that convinced me this was a very serious event.

Chile was down a goal and assaulted the German defense relentlessly and almost recklessly, playing impossible passes, lining up shot after shot at goal, getting more than a little chippy, even by Chilean standards, where flopping and diving and sneaky cheap shots are what they do.

And the Germans began responding in the grabbing-and-pushing side of things, and the game had a “this could go either way” feel to it — which rarely is the case in a World Cup final, where the first goal so often feels decisive.

It was very entertaining.

The idea of the Fifa Confederations Cup … I want to say that it was the disgraced Sepp Blatter that made this a regular event on the Fifa calendar. (Not everything he did was bad.)

A simple concept. Bring together the six continental champions (North and South America, Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania) and top it off with the defending World Cup champion and the host of the next World Cup. Make it a dry run for the hosts, but also an interesting competition.

Two groups of four, top two in each group makes the semifinals.

I found the whole of the competition interesting. Group A with 2018 hosts Russia, Mexico, Portugal (with Cristiano Ronaldo in tow). Group B with Germany, Chile, Cameroon and Australia.

The most interesting team was always going to be Chile. The Chileans have won the past two South American championships, which they had never won previously, which is understandable given that South America also boasts Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.

This is considered a “golden generation” of players in Chile, and lots of Chilean fans traveled to Russia to see them play — and maybe win a global trophy for the first time.

The members of Chile’s team seem not to have gotten the memo about how certain levels of tattooing make you look less like a hip and edgy soccer star and more like a guy who has just served a long stint in prison for a violent crime.

Even the handsome Chileans have awful, neck-level tats, and then there is Arturo Vidal, the Bayern Munich midfielder who has taken things past the Mike Tyson zone, with tats pretty much covering his Mohawked head, including an enormous star on the back of it.

It gives them an air of menace. But they also can play, from Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez to Vidal and on down to defender Gary Medel and goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, currently of Manchester City.

Their group was the more interesting, even if it never seemed likely Cameroon or Australia would survive the first three matches.

Oz fell 3-2 to the Germans, drew 1-1 with Cameroon in a match pitting sides of vastly different styles and temperaments (which is the kind of game we like to see), and held Chile to 1-1, as well.

Chili beat Cameroon 2-0 and and the Germans fought back to salvage a 1-1 draw with the Chileans, but Chile moved to the semis thanks to a 1-1 draw with Australia. Notably, all four sides had a chance to advance out of the group ahead of Game 3.

The other group was a three-team affair — assuming everyone beat New Zealand, and they did. Russia got the soft team, the Kiwis, in the opener before 50,000 in St. Petersburg’s new stadium, thanks in large part to a Kiwi own goal in the first half.

Meanwhile, Mexico rallied twice to draw 2-2 with CR7’s Portugal side (Chicharito scored for Mexico), but then Mexico almost got caught napping, going down 1-0 to New Zealand before rallying for a 2-1 result.

Portugal thrashed the Kiwis 4-0 to finish first in the group while Mexico again came from a losing position to take a 2-1 victory over the hosts (who would have advanced with a victory), thanks in part to big-game choke artist Igor Akinfeev, the Russian keeper.

The semis, four sides ranked in Fifa’s top 17: Germany (No. 3) 4-1 over Mexico (17), Chile (4) 3-0 in a shootout over Portugal (8). Four serious global sides, that is.

Which set up the final, one the French broadcaster treated with great seriousness, with a four-man commentary panel, a long preview show, a long postgame show.

Germany scored on a sloppy back pass from a Chile defender, and then hung on grimly as the match got ugly. When it finally ended, the Chileans were shattered. The Germans celebrated as if they had won something important — and considering that they had sent a sort of “B” team to the tournament made up mostly of rising stars rather than current stars, it was very important. (Interesting, because Germany couldn’t be bothered to play in this tournament in 1997 and 2003.)

The final evidence this tournament something, now?

Chile’s players did not take off their silver medals.

Soccer players often do that. The runners-up medals … they yank them off within moments of a Fifa official (in this case, president Gianni Infantino) hangs them on their necks. It’s rude, but it happens all the time.

Chile may not play for a global trophy any time soon. Not when they have to survive Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, etc., to get to this tournament.

Meantime, one of the two best-known Germans led the celebration, the captain Julian Draxler, who plays for Paris Saint-Germain, and Emre Can, a Liverpool employee.

It was Draxler who first hoisted the trophy, which looks a lot like the World Cup trophy, and then they capered around the pitch for a half hour.

It seemed like something significant. The whole of it. Much more so than eight (or more) years ago, when not everyone took it seriously.

The Confederations Cup has arrived. Next date? Summer of 2022, in Qatar.

Maybe the U.S. can get past Mexico and make it there.



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