If ever a
soccer competition needed a positive spin, it's the Confederations Cup.
Although the eight competing nations include World Cup holder Brazil,
South American champion Argentina, multi-titlist Germany and European
Championship winner Greece, the competition badly needs something
special to give itself some credibility.
Hated by European clubs because it stops tired players from taking an
offseason break, the championship - being staged in Germany as a warmup
to next year's World Cup - has few friends outside of FIFA.
The world governing body had taken a competition that began as a
four-nation event to promote soccer in the Middle East and turned it
into a mini version of the World Cup, with the winners of each of its
six Confederations joining the World Cup holder and the host.
Its lowest point came two years ago in France where Cameroon star
Marc-Vivien Foe collapsed and died. Although his death was the result of
heart failure, critics suggested it may not have happened if he had been
able to rest his body between seasons.
Such is the unpopularity of the event in Europe that Germany and Italy
declined to take part in 2003 because their players were too tired at
the end of the domestic seasons.
This year's competition kicks off a week after most countries played
World Cup qualifying games. With just a short break before European
league and cup competitions start up, there's little time for the
players to recover from injuries and freshen up mentally and physically.
However, some of the sport's stars can now polish the competition's
Although Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos have been excused, Brazil has sent
FIFA player of the year Ronaldinho, Kaka, Adriano and new attacking
Argentina has goalscoring star Carlos Tevez on its roster, along with
talented midfielder Javier Saviola and defenders Walter Samuel, Javier
Zanetti and Gabriel Heinze. But Juan Sebastian Veron, Hernan Crespo and
Robert Ayala are among the big names left out.
Some players aren't here because they are still needed by their clubs.
Greece captain Theodoros Zagorakis misses the first two games because he
is needed by Bologna in an Italian relegation playoff. Opponent Parma
has pulled midfielders Vince Grella and Marco Bresciano out of
Australia's squad for the same reason, and they won't play in the
tournament at all.
Thu., June 16
Japan vs. Mexico
Brazil vs. Greece
Sun., June 19
Greece vs. Japan
Mexico vs. Brazil
Wed., June 22
Greece vs. Mexico
Japan vs. Brazil
Standings | Fixtures & Results
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Brazil is in the same group as Greece, Mexico and a Japan team already
celebrating being the first nation to qualify for next year's World Cup.
Argentina also guaranteed its place by beating Brazil 3-1 in qualifying
action on Wednesday, and joins Australia, Tunisia and host Germany in
the other group.
The opening games are Argentina-Tunisia in Cologne and Germany-Australia
in Frankfurt on Wednesday. Then comes a showdown between World Cup
holder Brazil and European champion Greece in Leipzig.
The competition gives the Greeks a chance to prove that its Euro 2004
triumph was no fluke.
They had failed to win a game in either the World Cup or European
Championship, but Otto Rehhagel's players beat host Portugal twice,
defending champion France and the favored Czech Republic on the way to
winning the title.
Rehhagel's team revels in being the underdog and that will be the case
Greece went down 1-0 at home to Ukraine in World Cup qualifying action
on Wednesday, badly hurting its chances of making it to next year's
finals in Germany.
But Rehhagel has the ability of getting the best out of his players
against better teams and the Greeks will be fired up to beat the world
Having reached the second round of the World Cup on home soil three
years ago, Asian champion Japan - coached by Brazilian great Zico -
hopes to maintain momentum by beating Mexico in Hannover on Wednesday.
But the players believe they are not playing that well.
"If we just keep playing like this we won't go very far in the World Cup,"
Fiorentina midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata said. "We have a lot of work to
do to take our game to the next level."
Germany lost in the final at the last World Cup but flopped badly at
Euro 2004, where it went out in the first round.
Because it hosts the World Cup, the team has been unable to play
competitive games and its fans will be looking closely to see how it
deals with Australia, Tunisia and Argentina.
Of the 12 World Cup venues, only five are in use for the Confederations
Cup. There are no games in Munich, which hosts the opening World Cup
match, or Berlin's Olympic stadium, which will stage the final.
The Confederations Cup final is set for Frankfurt's Waldstadion on June