FIFA Confederations Cup: What you need to know

Cristiano Ronaldo. (Martin Meissner/AP)

We’re just over 12 months away from the 2018 FIFA World Cup kicking off in Russia, which also means the host nation will soon welcome continental champions from around the world for the FIFA Confederations Cup.

Viewed as a dress rehearsal for next year’s festivities, the Confederations Cup will bring international focus upon Russia for two weeks this summer as it prepares to host the biggest and best sporting event on the planet in 2018.

Here’s what you need to know about the Confederations Cup.

What is the Confederations Cup?

The FIFA Confederations Cup is a quadrennial tournament staged by the World Cup host a year before the World Cup takes place.

The competition features all six of the current continental champions – Europe, North America, South America, Africa, Oceania, and Asia – as well as the reigning World Cup champions and the World Cup host nation.

How does the tournament work?

The eight-team field is divided into two round-robin groups, with the top two nations in each section advancing to the semifinals.

Group A consists of Russia, New Zealand, Portugal and Mexico. World Cup champions Germany are in Group B alongside Chile, Cameroon and Australia.

The competition runs from June 17 to July 2, with games taking place in four Russian cities: Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Kazan and Sochi.

When was the first tournament?

The Confederations Cup evolved out of the Artemio Franchi Trophy, a 1985 match staged in Paris pitting France, the defending European champions, versus Uruguay, the South American title holders.

Seven years later, four teams gathered in Saudi Arabia for the inaugural tournament (won by Argentina), then known as the King Fahd Cup, and again in 1995 (when Denmark won), before FIFA took over managing the tournament in 1997.

No nation that has ever won the Confederations Cup went on to win the World Cup the following year.

Brazil has lifted the trophy more times (four) than any other nation, and has won the last three tournaments.

Brazil’s Ronaldinho and Cuauhtémoc Blanco of Mexico are the tournament’s joint all-time scorers with nine goals apiece.

Didn’t a player die at the Confederations Cup?

On June 26, 2003, tragedy struck when Cameroonian midfielder Marc-Vivien Foe collapsed in the 72nd minute of a semifinal game against Colombia at Lyon’s Stade de Gerland in France.

Foe was treated on the field before being stretchered off and taken to the stadium’s medical centre, where he received more emergency attention, including mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and extra oxygen, but he died shortly after. He was 28 years old.

An autopsy revealed that Foe suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy — an abnormally enlarged left ventricle of the heart — and concluded that he died of natural causes.

Foe’s death sent profound shockwaves throughout the soccer world, as players struggled to come to grips with the tragic turn of events. Thierry Henry paid tribute to the former Manchester City star, pointing to the sky after he opened the scoring in France’s 3-2 semifinal win over Turkey, just hours after Foe passed away.

After France defeated Cameroon in the final, two of Foe’s teammates held a gigantic photo of him at the post-match ceremony, and a runner-up medal was hung around it. Foe also finished third in media voting for player of the tournament and was posthumously awarded the Bronze Ball award.

Does the Confederations Cup matter?

That’s the million-dollar question.

Talk to FIFA and they’ll tell you it matters a great deal, as it gives the host nation a chance to prepare and iron out the final kinks before staging the World Cup the following year.

But let’s be honest: this is nothing more than a cash grab by soccer’s governing body. The host nations hardly learn anything valuable ahead of the World Cup, and most countries don’t even bring their “A teams” to the tournament, and instead decide to give their best players the summer off to recuperate from a tiring club season and prepare for the gruelling year ahead.

Euro ’96 winner Germany went so far as to turn down the invitation to play in the 1997 Confederations Cup, while France (1998 World Cup champion) declined to participate in 1999.

Germany is not sending its best team to Russia, and German FA President Reinhard Grindel went so far to describe the tournament as “obsolete.”

Has Canada ever played at the Confederations Cup?

This might shock you, but yes, it has!

Canada won the 2000 CONCACAF Gold Cup by beating Columbia in the final in Los Angeles. By virtue of being crowned champions of North America, Canada earned the right to compete in the 2001 Confederations Cup staged in Japan and South Korea.

Canada held Brazil to a 0-0 draw, but bowed out in the group stage on the back of losses to Japan and Cameroon.

“It’s not every day that Canada gets the chance to play in big tournaments, and that was one that was a great experience for us,” former Canadian midfielder De Rosario told this correspondent back in 2009.

“Going there to play against teams such as Cameroon, Brazil and Japan, that was tremendous, and to be there with a great bunch of guys, and experiencing a different culture was great.”

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