Confederations Cup: the contenders

The 2009 Fifa Confederations Cup takes place in South Africa from 14 to 28 June 2009.

Played in the World Cup host country a year before football’s premier event, Fifa’s “Festival of Champions” has become a serious test of the host country’s World Cup readiness – and a major sporting event in its own right, bringing together regional champions from all corners of the globe.

In 2009, the participating teams will African champs Egypt, Asian champs Iraq, European champs Spain, Oceanian champs New Zealand, South American champs Brazil, Concacaf champs USA, 2006 World Cup winners Italy, and 2010 hosts South Africa.

The draw for the tournament took place on 22 November 2008, splitting the eight teams into two groups and setting up some classic clashes.

Here are snapshot profiles of the contenders for the title of 2009 Fifa Confederations Cup champions, including each team’s recent record and star player/s.

GROUP A

South Africa

Since winning the African Nations Cup in 1996, it seems that Bafana Bafana have been on a slow but steady downward spiral, apart from a few encouraging successes. Four wins in their four most recent outings, however, have fans of the side hoping that South Africa has turned the corner under coach Joel Santana.

Earlier this year, the team suffered a big setback when they failed to qualify for the 2010 African Nations Cup. However, Santana had been thrust into the middle of qualifying without an opportunity to learn about the players following the shock resignation of previous coach Carlos Alberto Parreira. Progress, although slow at first, appears to have been made.

Santana looks, for the most part, to have identified South Africa’s best players, and the national team is playing a more rounded and effective game, with the long-time problem of lack of goal-scoring no longer dogging the side.

Blackburn Rovers’ striker Benni McCarthy has helped, as has the emergence of Thanda Royal Zulu marksman Bernard Parker, who looks a likely candidate for an overseas contract.

Bafana Bafana’s emerging star, however, is midfielder Teko Modise. Not only is he capable of pulling the strings in the middle of the park, but he is also a goal scorer; his ability to score from distance, often with blistering shots, make him a man to keep an eye on. He has the talent to make a big mark on the game. What he needs to develop is consistency.

Iraq

Iraq’s victory in the 2007 Asian Cup was hailed as a miracle by many, as the splintered country united behind its football team, which wasn’t considered a serious title challenger. That success earned the side a nomination as Laureus World Team of the Year in 2007, a title that was ultimately awarded to South Africa’s Rugby World Cup winners, the Springboks.

Since the high of the Asian Cup title, Iraq’s form has been patchy. The team’s record in 2008 stands at three wins, four losses and three draws.

Striker Younis Mahmoud is captain of the Iraq national team and was in charge when the side lifted the Asian Cup, making him, to many, the face of Iraqi football. He made his international debut in 2002, and in 2004 became the first Iraqi football player to launch a website.

New Zealand

As part of the Oceania Football Confederation, undoubtedly the weakest of Fifa’s regional bodies, New Zealand doesn’t get to consistently play against top-class opposition. It is something that could hamper their efforts in the Confederations Cup.

The other teams in the confederation – American Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga, Vanuatu – fall in the category of minnows on the world stage. With Australia joining the Asian Football Confederation, New Zealand has become the region’s soccer powerhouse.

Defender Ryan Nelsen, who has been playing for the All Whites since 1999, is probably their best known player. He plays alongside South Africa’s Aaron Mokoena and Benni McCarthy for Blackburn Rovers in the English Premier League.

Spain

With a hugely impressive European Championship victory, Spain finally brought together and lived up to the potential of the country’s undoubted football-playing prowess. Time after time the Spaniards had flattered only to deceive, but they got it right in Austria and Switzerland in 2008.

Blessed with outstandingly talented players in every position, Spain is on an unbeaten run of 24 matches that covers the last two years. It is an astonishing record.

Maybe the most recognisable player among the many talented stars that Spain boasts is striker Fernando Torres, who became a massive star on the world stage after a stunningly effective first season with Liverpool in the English Premier League. Scoring the winning goal in the European Championship final against Germany further enhanced the reputation he had established at Anfield.

However, Torres is but one among many stars who have finally meshed their talent into a superb team with a spine that was missing in the past.

GROUP B

USA

The USA, the champions of North, Central America and the Caribbean, visited South Africa in 2007, beating Bafana Bafana 1-0 in the Nelson Mandela Challenge.

The Americans also have experience in the Confederations Cup, having played in the event three times previously, twice placing third.

While they’re not a team that immediately springs to mind as a football powerhouse, the Americans have consistently maintained a world ranking between the teens and low-twenties for a long time now.

Their record for 2008 reads: played 14, won nine, drawn two, and lost three.

The team’s star player is veteran Landon Donovan, who first turned out for the USA in October 2000. The previous year he had been awarded the Golden Ball, given to the best player at the 1999 Fifa U-17 World Championships.

Donovan has earned more than 100 internationals caps and is his country’s all-time leading goal scorer with 37 to his name.

Italy

Italy, the 2006 Fifa World Cup winners, have produced mixed results in 2008. While the traditional Italian mettle was on show in Euro 2008, where they reached the final before losing 1-0 to Spain, they have been inconsistent, suffering a shock 2-1 defeat to minnows Cyprus.

Through the course of 2008, Italy played 13 matches, won five, drew four, and lost four, including two to world number one Spain.

Regardless of their results, the Italians always bear watching in big competitions; their record over the years is proof of this. Also, with their traditionally miserly defence, and the goalkeeping of Gianluigi Buffon, arguably the best net-minder in the game, they are always in with a chance of winning.

Buffon is the rock at the back for the Azzuri while, in front of him, Fabio Cannavaro, their 2006 World Cup winning captain, is the man who pulls the strings in defence.

After the Italians won the World Cup, Cannavoro was named Fifa World Player of the Year. He then transferred from relegated Juventus to Spanish giants Real Madrid so that he could continue playing in the Uefa Champions League. There, Cannavaro took over the jersey of one of the legends of the game, pulling on the number-five shirt previously worn by Zinedine Zidane.

Brazil

No nation has won the World Cup more times than the five victories recorded by Brazil. The country is synonymous with outstanding footballers and teams, with skillful, entertaining football and a passion for the game that courses through all Brazilians’ veins.

However, Brazil has dropped to fifth in the world rankings, an unusually low position for the South American giants. Ten matches into qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, they lie second in the South American standings, six points behind leaders Paraguay. Their 2008 record is a disappointing – for Brazil – four wins, five draws and one loss.

Despite their less than stellar form, the Brazilians will probably, based on past history, go into the Confederations Cup as the favourites; but they have a lot to prove, not least to their fans.

They are, as usual, blessed with talented individuals, and midfielder Kaka is one to watch out for. The AC Milan star was named Fifa World Player of the Year in 2007, and has the ability to unlock the best of defences with great passing and finishing.

Egypt

The winners of the last two African Nations Cup titles, Egypt are ranked second on the continent, behind only Cameroon. Victory over the Indomitable Lions in the Nations Cup final immediately qualified 2008 as a successful year for the Pharaohs.

Their 2008 record of 12 wins, three losses and two draws is a good record, but two of those losses – 4-0 to Sudan and a shock 1-0 defeat to Malawi – indicate that the Egyptians are not always consistent. Their other defeat was by a 2-0 margin against powerful Argentina.

Mido, who plays for English Premier League club Middlesbrough, is a talented and strong striker. He has plied his trade for many other clubs in many different countries, representing Zamalek (Egypt), Gent (Belgium), Celta Vigo (Spain), Olympique Marseille (France), AS Roma (Italy) and Tottenham Hotspor (England).

Mido has had his issues with the national team’s management in the past, leading to a number of instances of accusations and counter-accusations between the player and management. These problems have led to him playing fewer matches than he might otherwise have played for the Pharaohs.

Nonetheless, he has a good striking rate of 19 goals in 48 internationals, and is a big man, capable of making things physically tough for defenders.

Article last updated: November 2008

Using SAinfo materialWould you like to use this article in your publication
or on your website?
See: Using SAinfo material