Monday, June 15, 2009

The 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup kicked off in South Africa yesterday to not so much a fanfare as a lone bugler and a cacophony of annoying horns from the fans.

The competition has seen a few changes over the years and is now in it's 8th tournament.

For those a little unfamiliar with the Cup, it started in 1992 as a tournament in Saudi Arabia, which would feature the host nation taking on some continental champions for the King Fahd Cup.

Two such competitions were held (1992 and 1995) before FIFA took over the organisational reigns and decided to make it a bi annual tournament from 1997 featuring eight teams made up of the host nation, the six Confederation Champions and the last World Cup winners.

The Cup was made a four yearly tournament in 2005, with the same qualifying criteria as above, but will now be hosted by the following year's World Cup hosts and will act as a trial run for the host country and a chance to test some of the stadiums in a live international situation.

Many dismiss the importance of the tournament as a World Cup lite and it's not a competition that inspires too much enthusiasm and unless your country is taking part, it's more an aside and something to fill what would be those long summer non footballing days than something that will excite as much as the World Cup or Euros.

All of this is a shame as the 2009 version has been a huge surprise and the four games so far have thrown up some of the most entertaining international contests seen in a long time.

The competition kicked off Sunday with a less than inspiring 0-0 draw between the hosts and Iraq. South Africa should have wrapped the match up but failed to turn their dominance and chances into goals.

Goals weren't a factor in the second match of the day as European champs Spain destroyed Oceanic champs New Zealand 5-0, with Fernando Torres hitting a hat trick.

On paper, the result is not that shocking, but having watched New Zealand giving Italy a good run for their money in a midweek friendly which saw the Italians win by the odd goal in seven. It shows just how strong the Spanish are in world football at the moment and we could see them dominating the game for the spell now that they always promised.

Today saw the first round of Group B matches and threw up two games of fireworks.

The Brazil-Egypt game was simply a joy to watch. End to end action, goals galore and both teams just wanting to attack. Brazil won 4-3 thanks to a very late and controversial penalty but it was refreshing to see a team not afraid to take the game to the Brazilians and Egypt's players deserve full credit and have several impressive players in the shop window.

If there's going to be more games like this one then I'll certainly be glued to my TV for the rest of the tournament.

The second game of the day wasn't as exciting in a beautiful free-flowing footballing sense but wasn't short of controverial and contentious decisions to provide the fireworks.

Italy and the US isn't the most mouthwatering international fixture out there, but after tonight's game, future encounters will be ones to watch as both teams held little respect or restraint for each other, with aggressive play right from the off and a lot of incidents to carry forward to their next meeting.

A dubious sending off, a disallowed goal, a penalty for the ten men and a New York born Italian holding the key to the end result. That's Italy's 3-1 win in a nutshell, with a brace from supersub Guiseppe Rossi being instrumental to the result.

It's been a good opening to this year's competition. Let's hope for some more of the same over the next two weeks.

Just lose the horns!

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