Well, hasn’t it been great? From the opening minutes of that opening game when Neymar was firing home that impeccably executed volley, through the thrills and fun of the group games and semi-finals, to the final. I honestly cannot recall one bland game in over the 2 week duration of this year’s Confederations Cup. If this competition is merely Brazil’s supposed warm-up for the real deal of the 2014 World Cup, then we are in for a treat.
Here are my 6 reasons why I believe the Conferedations Cup has been so flipping fantastic.
What a talent! This tournament has been the ultimate blow for Neymar cynics. There was a sense in the build-up to the tournament that many were waiting to deliver a big fat ‘I told you so!”, after questioning the huge fee Barcelona paid for a supposedly ‘overrated’ footballer who has yet to play outside of Brazil. However, undoubtedly, Neymar has been the star of the tournament.
Perhaps the opening minutes of the opening match were a sign of things to come in this Confederations Cup for Neymar, as the Brazilian delivered a moment of absolute magic. After a precise pass from Paulinho to Fred, the number 9 chested the ball back to Neymar, who delivered one of the most textbook volleys you are ever going to see, sending the ball rocketing into the top corner from 20 yards out. This was only three minutes into the first game of the tournament – Neymar was making his intentions clearly known: this was his tournament.
The next few games provided a whole host of tricks and flicks which could make a very impressive and lengthy Youtube compilation by themselves – you will not see many better assists than the way he bamboozled the Mexican defence before setting up Jo for the 2nd goal against Mexico.
Showboating aside, Neymar wasn’t done with goalscoring either, as he netted 4 goals in 5 games. including that powerful left footed drive in the final to all abut secure Brazil’s victory and the clinching of the Confederations Cup. His left footed volley against Mexico once again demonstrated his incredible technique, whilst he showed sheer audacity by daring – and succeeding – to rocket a stunning 20 yard freekick straight past the right shoulder of the legendary Buffon, who remained rooted to the spot.
Admittedly, there have been quite a few ‘theatrics’ from the poster-boy of Brazilian football, but we can only hope that these are ironed out of his game when he moves to Europe. I for one cannot wait to see Neymar playing alongside the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and Messi next season. The 2013 Confederations Cup has been his tournament.
Quality on Show
The quality on show at this year’s competition has been brilliant and has surpassed anything that was offered in the previous Confederations Cup and the World Cup that followed it a year later. In fact, the more I thought about it, the 2013 Confederations Cup, in terms of quality of football and games, has been better than the majority of tournaments played since the turn of the century. OK, so obviously the Confederations Cup is not exactly the most desired of trophies, but perhaps this lack of pressure to win the title has led to teams playing in a more carefree fashion. The fact that the competition only consists of 8 teams also means that the quality of teams on offer is streamlined and almost every game in the tournament consists of a elite teams battling it out (apart from Tahiti – but more on them later).
There have been numerous highlights throughout the tournament: some truly brilliantly individual showings from the likes of the aforementioned Neymar, Balotelli, Kagawa and Iniesta (who has been the best player in the competition behind Neymar for me); the Italy v Japan game was a stunning showcase of attacking football and flair; there have been some worldly goals, especially from the feet off Neymar. And, THAT final. What a final. From the rendition of the Brazilian national anthem (easily the greatest performance of a national anthem I’ve ever seen/heard performed) it was clear we were in for a special night and the game succeeded to living up to the build-up with flying colours. Certainly one of the most compelling competition finals of the last 20 years – not bad for a gig which is regularly dubbed as a ‘dress rehearsal’.
Overall, everything that has been on offer on the pitch has been of a high standard and exciting to watch. A further example is the 0-0 clash between Spain and Italy at the semi-final stage – this has to be as good a stalemate as you are ever going to see; it had end to end football, missed chances, great football, an intriguing tactical battle and a nail-biting penalty shootout to finish (also, perhaps 11 of the best penalties you are ever going to see in one shootout).
Wasn’t it nice not to hear about the English squad for a change? Well I thought it was anyway, but maybe that’s just me being a Welshman coming to the fore there. No England meant no repeated visits to the England camp in the coverage building up to, in the middle of and following any of the live games, an exercise which I find consistently tedious and dull.
Not to drive the ‘anti-England’ knife in further, but over the past two years (probably longer actually) I’ve found watching the England national team play a drab affair and something I feel that certainly wouldn’t have benefitted the 2013 Confederations Cup and maybe even detracted from the excellent spectacles that were played out on the field. I could get used to this ‘England-Free Zone’, but I have to admit that there would be something missing from next year’s World Cup if England were to fail to qualify.
The new ‘fun’ Italy
My favourite national team to watch over the past 12-18 months? Spain? Brazil? Uruguay? Argentina? Germany? None of the aforementioned. That accolade has to go to a team who have for almost the entirety of their existence being associated with defensive football, yet now look to be transforming into one of the most exciting national teams around. For me at the moment it is all about Forza Azzuri!
Prandelli has worked wonders to subvert the old catenaccio-loving Italian stereotype that has dominated world football perceptions. They may not play the same patient tiki-taka of their Spanish counterparts, but their passing game is still a very impressive, fast-paced and attractive brand of football. It must be remembered, that this Italian team went toe-to-toe with the world dominating Spain team in the semi-final and probably would have won if it wasn’t for some sloppy finishing.
More excitingly, the new look Italy is still a young, developing team, after Prandelli scrapped a lot of the deadwood that remained in the national team following their disastrous 2010 World Cup campaign under Marcelo Lippi. The Italians now have exciting talent such as Stephan El Shaarawy, Mattia De Sciglio and the ever maturing Mario Balotelli, a player who has looked at the height of his powers during the 2013 Confederations until he was sadly ruled out of the semi-final through injury. Throw in exciting talent pool that exists at U21 level, players such as Lorenzo Insigne, Giulio Donati and the apparent heir to Pirlo’s throne Marco Verrati, and you have one hell of an exciting Italy team lined up for the 2014 World Cup.
On the notion of looking at the future, it is perhaps relevant to look at the current and celebrate one factor of the Italian squad: Pirlo. Once again, the sage-like midfielder has been a joy to behold. His freekick against Japan plus his ridiculously cool-headed penalty against Spain have been two of my favourite Pirlo moments.
Jumping on the bandwagon a bit by here, but just like many other viewers of the Confederations Cup, my heart melted for the Tahiti national team and their efforts to go toe-to-toe with some of world football’s elite. I’m sure the Tahitians will take no offence at being dubbed international minnows, but unlike most teams that lurk in the dark nether regions of the FIFA rankings, Tahiti haven’t parked the proverbial bus and put 11 men behind the ball. In fact, they’ve attacked teams with the marauding Steevy Chong Hue being particularly impressive.
Some pundits had the audacity to suggest before the tournament that a nation that lacked such footballing prowess should be refused entry to one of FIFA’s Confederations Cup, yet Tahiti ‘qualfiied’ for the tournament no differently to anybody else – by winning their respective FIFA confederate championship, in this case the Oceania Cup. I can’t remember there being such complaints when New Zealand entered the 2009 edition of the tournament in South Africa, nor would I have imagined that there would be too many protests if they had played in this 2013 tournament as well.
Tahiti embodied the true spirit of football throughout and best of all, it looked like they were enjoying themselves as much as the spectators in the stadium and those in front of their TVs were enjoying watching them play.
The interesting conundrum of Spain
How people can find watching Spain play boring is beyond me. They are the greatest national team of my lifetime so far and I struggle to believe that I will ever witness a better one. Although many pundits and fans alike keep predicting that the end is nigh for Spain’s worldwide domination, they continued to show very little sign of easing off – that was until the 30th June 2013, the night of the Confederations Cup final. Perhaps a sign of some small chinks in the La Roja armour.
Big Phil and Brazil executed their gameplan against the Spaniards to perfection. Time will tell whether more teams now follow Brazil’s blueprint for ‘how to beat Spain’or whether any other nations have the sufficient quality to pull off such a demanding strategy. The 2013 Confederations Cup will definitely have a lot of other teams now licking their lips at the notion that Spain are actually mortal and there’s sure to be a hell of a lot more teams who now fancy their chances of winning the ultimate prize next summer.
However, football fans’ memories are short. Spain are still the ultimate footballing force in my eyes, even if they were usurped in one game to an excellent Brazil team playing with a rapturous home crowd behind them. Even in this tournament they have been at their stunning at times and for me their opening game was one of the highlight displays of the tournament. Spain’s tour-de-performance had to be the masterclass put on in their 2-1 win victory over a talented Uruguay team, who were chasing shadows for the majority of the 90 minutes. Admittedly, their other performances in the competition never quite reach the high standards of that win over Uruguay.
Many may dub their football ‘boring’ and ‘pragmatic’, but for my own taste their style of football is perfect for my footballing palate (but maybe that’s just the ‘cultured’ Swansea City fan in me). Their pragmatism is the sexiest type of pragmatism there can ever be. They are still the best national team in the world for me, and judging by the all conquering performances of their U21 and U20 teams in their recent respective, and once again, final aside, it has once again been a pleasure to watch this incredible and history-making side at the Confederatons Cup. Doubted them in 2014 at your peril.