I know full well this is not the World Cup and, to be honest, before researching the history of the FIFA Confederations Cup I would have struggled to tell you anything about previous winners and/or highlights of the tournament.
It is not an event that has captured the imagination of the average soccer fan - indeed many are oblivious to its very existence.
Perhaps a few more caught on following Italy’s shocking failure to advance beyond the group stages. If coach Marcello Lippi and the passionate tifosi didn’t know this is a team in decline, they know it now. They also know time is running short to fix the problem before the Azzurri launch the defence of their global crown in twelve months time.
If Italian soccer needed a wakeup call - and in all honesty it shouldn’t have after watching English and Spanish teams assume pre-eminence in European football - the alarm bells should now be ringing loud and clear. The Confederations Cup may only be a dress rehearsal for the 'real thing' but that does not excuse the way Lippi’s laboured superstars acquitted themselves in South Africa.
One of my concerns before this tournament began was whether we would see competitive matches as distinct from all-star exhibitions. Any misgivings I may have had were quickly dispelled as the peerless Spaniards dismantled the hapless Kiwis and the plucky Egyptians scared the fluent Brazilians. This has been a real competition played under tournament conditions as far as this observer is concerned.
Italy’s demise has been almost entirely self-inflicted. An hour of toil before finally prevailing against the short-handed Americans; a failure to execute against the well disciplined Pharaohs and lastly a lacklustre, error-strewn finale against the fun loving, free-flowing South Americans.
The back line lacked solidity as much as the front line lacked creativity. Quality players such as Cannavaro, Gattuso, Pirlo and Toni did precious little to enhance their resumes. Young gun Giuseppe Rossi may be the future but, after an inspired half an hour against the United States, failed to repeat the trick in the remaining group games.
Lippi has much work to do in the next year if his team is to have a ghost of a chance to hoist the World Cup for a fifth time. On the evidence of the last week and, based in part on the disappointing showing at Euro 2008, Italy can hardly be considered a serious contender for 2010 showpiece.
Neither, for that matter, can the United States. Bob Bradley’s team simply does not have the quality nor strength in depth to challenge for the World Cup itself, but the Americans achieved a minor miracle by reaching the semifinals of the warm up event. There seemed no way back following successive losses to Italy and Brazil, but the U.S. showed great heart to rebound in style against Egypt.
A combination of Egyptian defensive uncertainty and true American grit got the job done in Rustenburg and catapulted the Stars and Stripes from Group B whipping boys to runners-up on goals scored in one fell swoop. It’s a timely boost for American soccer with World Cup qualifying nearing its climax and their advance to the final four will hopefully rouse a little more interest in the exploits of the national team and the sport in general.
A victory over Spain on Wednesday would turn Team USA into household names and earn them an invitation to lunch at the White House. I have a feeling Landon Donovan and company will have to wait their turn to tour the Oval Office.
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