Where the Confederations Cup is concerned, a brief history is all that is required. Although the tournament has existed in some form or other since 1992, it is only in the last dozen years that it has settled on its current format – as a World Cup warm-up, held in the country that is hosting the following year’s World Cup finals. Before that time, like most major international tournaments, the Confederations Cup had a very chequered history and existed in various different formats.
The Confederations Cup brings together the champions of the six footballing continents. In addition, the reigning World Champions (Germany) and the World Cup host nation (Russia, in 2018) are invited to participate, to make a total of eight competing nations, in two groups of four.
In the beginning, though, the tournament was not called the Confederations Cup, nor did it bring together all the winners of the different continental championships. It was originally called the King Fahd Cup, after the leader of the country, Saudi Arabia, in which the first two editions (in 1992 and 1995) were held. Essentially, it was a glorified summer friendly competition, albeit for countries rather than clubs, with only four teams competing in the first instalment and six in the second.
Finally, FIFA realised that it would be worthwhile having a World Cup warm-up tournament, if only to road-test the various stadia and transport links of the host nation before it actually hosted one of the world’s greatest spectacles. Consequently, FIFA took charge of the event and renamed it the Confederations Cup. After an initial try-out in 2001 in South Korea and Japan, the co-hosts of the following year’s World Cup, the current format was finally settled on for 2005, the year before Germany hosted the World Cup for the second time.
That first Confederations Cup proper was given some added gloss by the fact that it was won by Brazil. They were in fine form throughout the tournament, but gave a particularly memorable performance in the final when they defeated their greatest rivals, Argentina, 4-1.
In a way, that 2005 win by Brazil established the template for both the tournament and the Brazilian team itself for the next two Confederations Cups. Having won the 2005 edition, only to succumb to a Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry-inspired France in 2006, Brazil would win again in 2009 and 2013, but on both occasions the glory of winning an international tournament would ultimately prove illusory, as the following year they would succumb in meek fashion in the World Cup to a more organised and better-balanced side.
In 2009, when the Confederations Cup was held in South Africa, Brazil beat the United States 3-2 in a thrilling final. The US had progressed to the final after a shock victory in their semi-final against Spain. At the time, of course, Spain were the reigning European Champions and, built on the back of Pep Guardiola’s magnificent Barcelona side, were justifiably favourites for both the Confederations Cup and the following year’s World Cup. In the end, however, Spain’s shock defeat in the warm-up tournament was the perfect preparation for the World Cup, when they survived another shock defeat (to Switzerland, in their first game ) to claim their first global crown.
Having won a third international title in a row when they were victorious at Euro 2012, Spain were again favourites for the Confederations Cup in Brazil in 2013. On that occasion, however, they were comprehensively defeated 3-0 in the final by the hosts, and it appeared that the honour of being the world’s best side had passed to Brazil, especially as they had claimed their third Confederations Cup title in a row. However, Brazil’s victory was again ultimately in vain, as the following year they succumbed to a record 7-1 defeat to Germany in the World Cup semi-final.
This year, there will definitely be a new name on the Confederations Cup, as Brazil are neither the champions of South America nor the World, and so for the first time did not qualify for the tournament. In their absence, the favourites will undoubtedly be Germany, the current World Champions, although they may yet be challenged by both Portugal, the current European Champions, and Chile, who have won the last two editions of the Copa América.
However, the real focus will be on the hosts, Russia. With less than a year to go before the World Cup, the hope will be that there is none of the hooliganism or racist chanting that has become so commonplace among Russian fans in recent years. A tournament without that kind of crowd trouble will make the Confederations Cup itself the real winner.