What are reigning world champions Italy, European champions Spain, and football giants Brazil doing taking on teams like New Zealand and Iraq this month?
It sounds like a complete mismatch, but the eight-team FIFA Confederations Cup which starts in South Africa on Sunday, will see these teams pitted against one another in what is a dress-rehearsal of sorts for next year’s World Cup. Dubbed by FIFA, world football’s governing body, the “festival of champions”, the tournament involves primarily the winning teams from regional competitions in each of the world’s six football federations — Spain from Europe (UEFA), Brazil from South America (CONMEBOL), Iraq from Asia (AFC), U.S. from the Americas (CONCACAF), New Zealand from Oceania (OFC), and Egypt from Africa (CAF). These sides qualified for the tournament by winning their respective regional competitions, while South Africa gained automatic entry as the tournament hosts, and Italy as World Cup holders.
2010 South Africa gets ready
South Africa police drill for 2010
FIFA’s 2010 legacy plan
The tournament format sees the eight teams split into two groups of four for a round-robin stage, before the top two teams from each group progress to knock-out semi-finals and then the final on June 28. In-form Spain head to the tournament as favorites, while a resurgent Brazil side and World Cup holders Italy also can’t be discounted. Egypt could be the dark horses of the event — but they do have a tough group with games against both Brazil and Italy. The scrap for second in Spain’s pool could well be the other interesting storyline from the competition, as South Africa, Iraq and New Zealand fight it out for a place in the final four. • See profiles of the eight teams involved in the 2009 Confederations Cup. » While the tournament doesn’t carry with it the same prestige as a World Cup, it is essentially a trial run of the main event for the host nation, and for the lower-ranked countries involved it offers invaluable experience playing against the world’s best. Ricky Herbert, coach of New Zealand’s national team the “All Whites”, told the NZ Soccer Web site the tournament is always hugely attractive to the South Pacific nation as it offers a great opportunity for the national team. Herbert’s side narrowly lost 4-3 to World Cup holders Italy in a friendly on Wednesday, and he said the big-game experience is excellent.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity. It may be mammoth gap between where they are and where we are but it gives a chance on that world stage to put a good foot forward, and I think we can.” “Whilst it’ll be great for the players on the pitch to play the best players and the best teams in the world, football fans can switch that on and watch their own team play the likes of Fabio Cannavaro or Fernando Torres or whoever,” Herbert said.