Confederations Cup 2013: Heralding a Quadrennial Carnival
As Brazil prepares to host world football’s showpiece event next year, Deepanjan Deb fathoms the depth of preparation in the South American nation. The Confederations Cup is the best way for any host nation to test the waters before the waves begin flowing in the following year
Oddly enough, on a Saturday evening, seated at the Copa Cabana in Pune over a Monk that refuses to grow Old, I was watching the French Open women’s final, which was more of a coronation of Serena Williams than a competition with Maria Sharapova. But half the world away, an entire country is gearing up for something else. Hotel bookings are difficult to find. Streetwalkers are taking English lessons. Those who aren’t are trying to convince themselves by saying that you do not necessarily need to know a language to communicate with men.
The summer of 2013 heralds the onset of the samba quadrennial carnival; commencing with the ceremonial Confederations Cup to captivate us this June, reaching its crescendo with the challenging tour de force in 2014, the FIFA World Cup and culminating in the celestial pièce de résistance, the 2016 Summer Olympics. As Brazil prepares to play host to legions of global sporting icons over the next four years, the Confederations Cup is the perfect appetizer to start the proceedings before two successive heavyweight main course meals separated by two years.
Confederations Cup perhaps isn’t an exciting endeavour in itself, but it at least gives everyone, and I mean everyone, an opportunity to try things out before the start of the real thing. People who own small inns, streetwalkers, tourist guides and of course, the footballers. And it is sheer coincidence that all of this will be played out under the gaze of the Son of God. Also, He faces the East, i.e. towards Europe and not the Americas in what probably is an indication of the way things are going to pan out at the World Cup next year. The South American giants have never looked so vulnerable, which means that European teams definitely have the chance to win the Cup in South America for the first time ever.
The Confederations Cup held every four years is contested by the holders of each of the six FIFA confederation championships (UEFA, CONMEBOL, CONCACAF, CAF, AFC, OFC), along with the FIFA World Cup holder and the host nation. Since 2005, the Confederations Cup tournament has been held in the nation that hosts the World Cup in the forthcoming year, thereby providing the host nation with a dress rehearsal for the World Cup. As a tribute to the culture and tradition of Brazil, the ball to be used in the tournament has been named Cafusa – a portmanteau of ‘Carnival’, ‘Futebol’ and ‘Samba’.
Football, as they say, is a beautiful game and perhaps no other team historically has played it so beautifully and consistently as Brazil have over a long period of time now. From Leônidas da Silva in 1938 to Pelé in 1958 to Garrincha in 1962 to Carlos Alberto’s dream team in 1970 to Sócrates and Zico in ‘82 to Romário and Bebeto in ‘94 and Ronaldo and Ronaldinho in 2002, Brazilian football has never ceded to provide moments of magic and happiness to football lovers across the globe. No other team in history has been as successful as Brazil on the global stage. And no other nation has perhaps given us as many superstars as Brazil has, continually since almost a century now. And fittingly enough, football’s grand tournament, the World Cup returns next year to the nation that has lifted the trophy the most number of times.
A nation’s culture sometimes is reflected in the way its team plays. Australians and Germans are known to be extremely tough people in terms of mentality. It can be seen in the ways their cricket and football teams, respectively, play on the pitch. Brazilians are known to celebrate carnivals and their football over the years has been nothing short of a carnival and a joy to behold. Across a wide spectrum of sports, there are certain challenges that opposition players/teams generally want to avoid: to play against Rafael Nadal on clay, race against Michael Schumacher in the rain, run the 100 metres against Usain Bolt and play competitive football against Brazil in Brazil; primarily owing to the inevitability of the outcome. However, in the last couple of years, the sheer inevitability of the last one has taken a serious beating, which provides scope for a brilliant fortnight of nail-biting football of the highest order.
The 2013 Confederations Cup pits the host nation Brazil against the World and European champions Spain, the South American champions Uruguay, perennial superpower Italy along with Asian powerhouse Japan, the ever dangerous Mexico, the unheralded Tahiti and African giants Nigeria. Divided into groups of four, the teams virtually have no breathing space as each match virtually is a knock-out with a semi-final spot for grabs.
Unlike many other sports, football primarily is played all the year round at a club level. Players mostly assemble for their national team in competitive matches either in their continental showpiece or if they qualify for the World Cup, both of which happens once in four years. So, we as audiences are more used to seeing a Lionel Messi turn out in Barcelona colours, a Cristiano Ronaldo in Real Madrid jersey or a Wayne Rooney in Manchester United uniform. Tournaments like the Confederations Cup provide a platform for the global audience to watch their favourite stars in their national team jerseys.
The Confederations Cup over the years has given us many memorable matches. The 2005 final between Brazil and Argentina was one of the finest displays of ‘exhibition football’ seen in recent times, in which a Brazilian side pregnant with superstars dished out a lesson in attacking football to a hapless Argentinean side.
This year’s roster includes some of the best national teams from their respective continents. As we have been seeing in the past five years, the question the seven teams need to ask themselves is: “Can we beat Spain?” The Spanish side under Vicente del Bosque has been a revelation winning the World Cup in 2010, sandwiched by two European Championships in 2008 and 2012. Many consider this Spanish team to be perhaps the greatest international team assembled ever. With players mostly from Real Madrid and Barcelona, the Spanish ego of dominance has been brutally massacred by their continental superpower Germany in club football last month. Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich humiliated the Spanish Superpowers at the Champions League this year. The national team will go all out to prove that that they still are the best in the world.
The predictability of football is its unpredictability. And the Confederations Cup is a brilliant platform for teams like Tahiti to show the world what they are capable of achieving. With Japan, Italy, Mexico and Uruguay adding spice to the flavour, June surely is the month to tighten our seatbelts as the fun begins in Brazil.
It’s carnival time, folks! Let the games begin…