Confederations Cup, Should we care? Rana Malook explains why he loves the competition.
Didier Drogba was just 14 years old when Ivory Coast won the African cup of nations in 1992 and qualified for the first ever Confederations cup, (initially called the King Fahd cup). Ivory Coast lost to Argentina 4-0, but it's easy to imagine the profound inspiration a young Drogba must have gained from the experience.
The Confederations cup is essentially a Champions league of world football. Along with the host nation the Champions of the World's 6 footballing continents come together every four years and the results are often spectacular. The beauty of the competition lies in giving nations of some of the weaker footballing continents another chance (Along with the World Cup) to compete with their stronger counterparts.
Whilst memories of the first Confederations cup are vivid, I've followed every installment since then and it's been worthwhile. From 1995 onwards every competition has essentially served as a launchpad for unexpected starlets to shine on the biggest stage. I watched a young Jay-Jay Okocha casually use (for the first time in my memory) the stuttering run up technique to bamboozle the Mexican goalkeeper when taking a penalty in the 3rd place play off in 1995.
In 1997 FIFA took over the competition from the Saudis and it was a spectacular event which included arguably the best Brazil team ever. At that moment in time not only were they Copa America Champions but also World champions and about to be crowned Confederation Cup champions. The combination of raw and relatively unknown talents of Ronaldo, Denilson, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos and Juninho combined with established stars like Romario, Dunga and Cafu meant they lit up a tournament which yielded an incredible 52 goals in just 16 games. The competition launched the careers of numerous players in the space of a few weeks with European clubs going crazy with their respective cheque books. Alvaro Recoba and Ronaldo both won lucrative contracts with Inter Milan. Pavel Nedved began his tenure as a legend in the Italian game with Lazio. Harry Kewel announced himself on the world scene and went onto help Leeds United play Champions League football. Rivaldo signed for Barcelona. It really was a great advert for the competition and whilst no tournament has lived upto it since then, they have continued to produce and showcase rough diamonds a plenty.
The 1999 installment gave the footballing world a fresh faced young kid named Ronaldinho who notched up 6 goals to turn us all into fans of his silky skills. Serginho was another start performer snapped up by AC Milan after the tournament.
2003 saw he emergence of Brazil's Adriano and Cameroon's Samuel Etoo as future heavy weights of world football. Barcelona snapped up Etoo a year later and Adriano's big money move to Inter Milan also materialized a year after the Confederation cup. This thumping volley from Samuel Eto'o earned Cameroon 1-0 against Brazil and announced his arrival on the big stage with a bang.
With discovery of stars such as Ronalidinho and Eto'o on its CV the competition gained a lot of attention in 2005. Scouts from European clubs monitored players and their temperament searching for the next Ronaldinho. Real Madrid were impressed enough with Robinho's temperament and skill to offer him a dream transfer to the Bernabau.Meanwhile Bayern Munich snapped up a 20 year old Lukas Podolski who's electric performances on the wing for Germany were one of the highlights of the tournament. Another 21 year old Argentinian who was gaining attention and would soon after the competition be moving to London was a certain Carlos Tevez.
Spain were involved in a shock defeat to USA in the semi-final but the performances of David Villa earned the Spaniard a dream move to Barcelona.
4 teams the Scouts will be watching in Confederation Cup 2013.
With only 6 players playing European club football (4 in Spain and 1 each in France/England) there will be plenty of talent being monitored very closely at this year's competition.
Player to watch: Giovani DOS SANTOS. The former Spurs man has improved considerably since moving to Mallorca and more shifts like the one against Italy could yet earn him a deal with a bigger European club.
More than half of Nigeria's squad here play in clubs scattered all around Europe. However it's rare to see not one of those players plying their trade at the world's leading football clubs. That could all change though as Nigeria have started the tournament strongly.
Player to watch: Uwa ECHIEJILE. Granted Nnamdi Oduamadi scored a hat-trick against Tahiti and also had an exceptional game. However the young Nigerian forward is already on the books of Italian giants AC Milan. Echiejile on the other hand is currently playing for Portuguese outfit Sporting Braga. The strong defender, at ease with the ball on either feet put in an impressive performance in the opening match. It wouldn't be surprising if he is playing for a different club come August.
Uruguayans love to play in Italy with 8 players from the squad playing in Serie A. Luis Suarez may get a lot of attention in the tournament regardless but there is another powerful forward who will be closely watched by the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester city and Chelsea.
Player to watch: Edinson Cavani: Strong in the air, skilful, consistent, only 26 the Uruguayan striker will be a huge boost to any team. His goals scoring record in one of the toughest leagues in Europe is remarkable. If he has a good tournament, Napoli could be commanding upwards of £50 million. Here is a a collection of impressive strikes from football's version of Thor.
Japanese players are increasingly becoming very attractive to European clubs. More of them in the current squad play in Europe than their Nigerian counterparts, which even 4 years ago was unheard of.(14 of them play in European leagues) Highly disciplined with a good work ethic the likes of Manchester United have dipped into Japan's wealth of footballing talent. Regardless of how they perform here, there will be plenty of clubs scouting the Confederation cup for the next HIdeotoshi Nakata.
Player to watch: Atsuto Uchida: Schalke reached the semi-finals of the champions league this year and the Japanese right back was instrumental in the German club's success last year. Having made his professional debut aged just 17 Uchida (now 25) will be looking for strong performances in the confederation cup. He's proven he can play at the highest level, his transfer value is bound to go up if he plays well.
Player of the tournament?
It's so difficult to look beyond Brazil's Neymar when it comes to the best player of the Confederation cup. He's just signed for Barcelona for a fee reported to be nearing £50 million which is modest compared to modern standards. He could provide some tasty appetizers for the Barcelona faithful, before the main course come August.
Here are a few of the best goals from the Confederations Cup to wet your appetites.
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image: © leandrociuffo