The ninth edition of the FIFA Confederations Cup began on Saturday.
It's a tournament which has come a long way from its previous incarnation as the King Fahd Cup. Previously, the competition, which features winners of the FIFA confederations, winners of the World Cup and the host nation, was held bi-annually, but since FIFA assumed mantle in 1997, it is now held once every four years.
This change was effected in 2005. The competition is now more or less used as a dress-rehearsal for the World Cup.
In its evolution through the course of time, the once four-team tournament has gone through the motions, coming full cycle and throwing in some shocks into the mix.
There have been a number of surprise results and shocks along the way. Presumed favourites have experienced humbling at the hands of lesser sides. Here are some of the most high-profile upsets in the competition.
Mexico 4-3 Brazil | Mexico, 1999
Mexico City played host to this memorable victory by the host nation. 110,000 raucous home supporters formed the backdrop of the competitions greatest ever final.
On paper, Brazil were favourites, but the Mexicans started off brightly and took a deserving lead in the 13th minute when Miguel Zepeda flicked the ball up before clipping a shot straight at Dida, who managed to tip the ball into his own goal when he really shouldn't have even been troubled.
Brazil looked shell-shocked by the way the host nation had burst out of the blocks and were lucky not to have been behind further a few moments late when Blanco had his headed effort incorrectly disallowed by the linesman.
Brazil could not have wished for a poorer start. Mexico, roared on by their home support, got their just reward and doubled their lead in the 30th minute when Blanco turned provider for Jose Abundis to drive home from about 20 yards to send the stadium into raptures.
Then came the 10 minutes of madness. Serginho coolly converted a penalty on the brink of half-time before substitute Roni slotted the equaliser two minutes after the interval from a Ronaldinho assist.
This Brazilian defence was an absolute mess, though. Mexico, sensing attack was indeed the best form of defence, surged forward. A conglomerate of tragic defending led to them reclaiming their lead just four minutes after being pegged back, Zepeda turning home after some statuesque defending.
In the 62nd minute, Blanco scored the goal his performance deserved. A Brazil free-kick fell to pieces and was swiftly countered upon and Blanco, the coolest person in the Azteca, finished with aplomb.
Brazil’s Ze Roberto ensured a frantic and tense ending after making it 4-3 but the Mexicans held on for a thoroughly deserved victory.
Brazil 0-1 Cameroon | France, 2003
This tournament will forever be overshadowed by the untimely death of Cameroon midfielder Marc-Vivien Foe during their semi-final match with Colombia. Cameroon, however, stole the headlines after trumping world champions Brazil at the Stade de France in the opening group game.
Missing star forwards Ronaldo and Rivaldo, Carlos Alberto Parreira's side lacked attacking threat, budding powerhouse Adriano and the uber-talented Ronaldinho making little impact against a solid African defence, marshalled by skipper Rigobert Song.
German coach Winnie Schaefer set up his team to defend resolutely and wait to transition lightning-quick on the break utilising the pace and mobility of Samuel Eto’o. Mohamadou Idrissou caused problems to the Brazil defensive line using his physical presence and made this attacking duo complimentary to each other.
Song, Foe and Geremi offered Cameroon experience and composure throughout, and gradually they took a greater grasp on proceedings. They had beaten Brazil on the way to their 2000 Olympic Games gold medal in Sydney, and the likelihood of a repeat only increased here.
Brazil huffed and puffed in phases, nothing much came out of their possession. They lacked cutting edge. Adriano was substituted for Ilan but there was little difference. Emerson, Kleberson and Ronaldhinho failed to spark
The Indomitable Lions made a few changes as well, Atouba for Foe bringing width to their attack and Joseph Job came on in support of Eto’o.
The game was delicately balanced as each team waited for the other to make a mistake and it was the Brazilians who folded. In the 83rd minute, Dida’s goalkick was headed back in his direction and when Lucio misjudged the flight of the ball, Samuel Eto’o pounced.
Cameroon went on to reach an emotional final against France, following Foe's death in the semi-final. France won by a Thierry Henry strike in extra-time settled the match but it was moving to see both teams embracing each other and paying tribute before and after the game to fallen star Foe.
Skippers Marcel Desailly and Rigobert Song hoisted the trophy together in a show of mutual respect, remembrance and honour. As a banner read inside the stadium, "a Lion never dies, it only sleeps". Rest in peace, Marc.
Egypt 1-0 Italy | Johannesburg, 2009
Italy came into the tournament as world champions, triumphant in Germany three years earlier. Marcello Lippi had returned the Azzurri to the pinnacle of global football with the ‘Catennacio’ principle, a blueprint of the great Italian teams of before.
They had beaten the United States 3-1 in the opener, pint-sized Giuseppe Rossi scoring twice against his birth-nation.
Egypt on the other hand were African champions for the third successive time and the highest ranked African nation at the time. The Pharaohs had come ever so close to securing a result against the mighty Brazil, losing out narrowly to a Kaka master class 4-3. If that was not impressive enough, their 1-0 win over the Italians made the whole world sit up and take notice.
Led by the talented Mohamed Zidan and national hero Mohamed Aboutrika, the Pharoahs displayed no fear and gave as good as they got. Their bedrock of home-grown players like Essam El Hadary, Aboutrika, Hassan constituted the core of the side. They played as a unit, defended and attacked as one. They went toe-to-toe with the Azzuri, traded blows and were more than a match for their more illustrious opponents.
Indeed they took the game to the Azzurri, and in the 40th minute got their just reward. A corner was swung in by Aboutrika which Homos met with a powerful header after evading Daniele de Rossi who was tasked to mark him. Everything about that goal was perfect, the delivery from Aboutrika was wonderful and the header even better.
Italy stepped up the pressure in the second period. Marcello Lippi clearly had his words ringing in his troops ears when they emerged after the interval. The Azzuri were more purposeful, played more directly and should have scored when Iaquinta’s exquisite first touch put him through on goal but the inspired El Hadary blocked his effort. The pressure mounted from the Italians as soon thereafter, an Andrea Pirlo free-kick went just wide.
Further efforts from Iaquinta and Montolivo were saved before the former struck the frame of the goal. Italy was out of luck and so it proved.
Johannesburg erupted on the final whistle.
The North Africans had secured three points. Italy had been beaten by a gritty, spirited and unified performance by the Pharaohs. Memorable night for African football.
Australia 1-0 Brazil | South Korea, 2001
One of the biggest upsets of the competition saw Australia trump much fancied Brazil. 1997 had seen these two teams meet in Saudi Arabia and the script couldn’t have been more typical. The Socceroos were torn apart by the world champions at the time. Ronaldo and Romario helped themselves to hat-tricks in a 6-0 rout. There wasn’t much else to look forward to this time round.
Granted this was not a vintage Brazil. Ze Maria, Washington, Ramon and Alves were not even half as good as their other contemporaries. It was far from a typical Brazil side. Farina’s Australia were nothing to write home about. There was such a gulf in class that people still expected a rout even though this Brazil side was not that much better in actual fact.
The Socceroos, however, were packed with team ethic, they worked hard for one another, were very well organised and difficult to break down.
So it showed. Brazil struggled to break them down. They just could not get any sort of rhythm going. Even their passionate samba supporters could not get their colourful cheering to work its samba magic. Australia were resolute and in the 84th minute, the unthinkable happened.
Stan Laziridis swung in a free-kick which was met at the far post by Murphy, who played for Sheffield United in the second tier, who powered a header past the helpless Dida in goal. Brazil was shell-shocked.
Australia held on for the win and cement this victory as one of the biggest, if not the biggest, Confederation Cup upsets. It could be said that in fact, this result probably helped Brazil since it marked the departure of coach Leao and the arrival of Luiz Felipe Scolari…and we all know how that story goes.
Spain 0-2 USA | South Africa, 2009
South Africa played host to another upset as the world witnessed the USA putting two past reigning European soon-to-be world champions Spain. They had made it to the semi-final miraculously it has to be said.
They lost their first match 3-1 to Italy, were thumped 3-0 by Brazil but against all expectations beat Egypt by the same score line. Italy’s loss to Brazil, again by a 3-0 score line in the final group match saw the Americans advance on goals scored. They had quite literally gone through by the skin of their teeth.
La Roja had cruised through their group, winning their all three matches without conceding a single goal. Additionally, they were in the midst of a world-record 15 straight victories, as well as a 35-match unbeaten run. Buoyed by their success at the previous summer's European championships in Austria/Switzerland, they quite simply looked unbeatable.
On kick-off, the script could not have been more typical. Spain bossed possession and had almost 30 attempts on goal but somehow they just could not score. Torres, (when he did not miss everything), Villa and Xavi all went nail-bitingly close but just could not score. It seemed like the elements were against them and so it proved.
In the 30th minute, a certain 19-year-old put the Americans into the lead. Striker Jozy Altidore, ironically plying his trade for Villarreal in Spain, barged past his club colleague Capdevila and slotted past Casillas. Just the third goal La Roja had conceded in over 25 matches.
Spain sought an immediate and swift response. Torres, Ramos and Fabregas all went close but Tim Howard in goal stood tall every time. Frustration was beginning to creep in for the Spaniards. Bradley’s boys played with a composure and assuredness of being a goal up against the European champions.
The second period was similar to the first. It was all Spain. They surged forward in search of an equaliser, leaving holes at the back which the USA finally exploited in their one and only meaningful attack. Landon Donovan showed quick feet and a brilliant sense of awareness to square to Dempsey who tapped into the net. It was complete.
A late sending off for Michael Bradley did little to dampen spirits of the Americans. It was a monumental night and a milestone for North-American football. Bob Bradley had engineered one of the greatest upsets in modern footballing history. They eventually went on to lose 3-2 to Brazil in the final after taking another two-goal lead. It was a memorable outing for the boys in white.
Spain on the other hand went on to win the World Cup the following and put that disappointment behind them.
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