Confederations Cup verdict: Best game, players, Russia readiness, future
The Confederations Cup came to an end on Sunday when Germany lifted the trophy in St. Petersburg. ESPN FC writers were in Russia to follow events and we asked them for their views on the tournament.
What was the best game you saw?
Gab Marcotti: Australia 2-3 Germany
Early goals were followed by a strong reaction. Low's men were relentless and there was brilliance from Draxler; it's not often they'll play a team with the style of Australia.
Mark Ogden: Germany 4-1 Mexico
Mexico believed they had a chance of defeating Joachim Low's young team in the Sochi semifinal, but two goals inside the opening 10 minutes from Leon Goretzka delivered an emphatic signal that the Germans were on a different level. Mexico fought valiantly, but were blown away.
Nick Ames: Portugal 0-0 Chile (Chile won 3-0 on penalties)
It may have featured a goalless 120 minutes but it felt like a knife-edge match that would not have been out of place at the World Cup for tension and high stakes. The shootout was not quite as even but the Confederations Cup needed a game like this, where the smallest error or piece of genius could decide everything.
Tom Marshall: Germany 4-1 Mexico
This might have made for grim viewing from a Mexican perspective, but it was the outstanding performance of the tournament from the eventual champion and a devastating reminder of the depth of talent that Germany nation possess.
Who were your player(s) of the tournament?
Marcotti: Julian Draxler (Germany), Leon Goretzka (Germany), Arturo Vidal (Chile)
Draxler just shades it as the overall No. 1. Low tailor-made a role for him during the tournament and he responded with quality and maturity, despite a sub-par display in the final. Next season is absolutely huge for him.
Ogden: Leon Goretzka (Germany) and Claudio Bravo (Chile)
Goretzka was the emerging talent of the tournament and it is difficult to imagine the world champions returning next summer without the Schalke youngster at the heart of their team. He has pace, strength, vision, endless energy and an eye for goal. Chile goalkeeper Bravo has restored his reputation during in Russia after a disastrous first season with Manchester City. He was impressive against Australia in group play before emerging as the penalty shootout hero against Portugal in the semifinal.
Ames: Arturo Vidal (Chile)
Vidal is simply a monumental presence and in no way deserved to be on the losing side in the final. Where he goes, others follow and it is hard to overstate his influence on the way Chile have played over the last half-decade. At 30 he is hardly over the hill but, nonetheless, his energy levels are remarkable. At times it felt as if he was on a single-handed mission to bring Chile the trophy.
Marshall: Julian Draxler (Germany)
Arturo Vidal was his usual imposing self for Chile, but it was the young Germans that set the tournament alight. Draxler was the pick, although Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka and Timo Werner were almost equally superb.
What were your impressions of Russia as a host nation, a year out from the World Cup?
Marcotti: Organizationally and in terms of infrastructure -- at least in host cities Moscow, St. Petersburg, Sochi and Kazan -- everything went smoothly and there were no issues of crime, violence or racism. Things can change in 12 months and it's a big country; who knows what it's like in the other seven cities?
Ogden: Russia has exceeded expectations and dampened the fears of many by hosting a slick, well-organised tournament. From new stadia to infrastructure within cities, it has been a big fortnight for the World Cup host nation. The unpredictable weather may catch out a few fans next summer and Moscow traffic appears permanently gridlocked but, all in all, it has been a success.
Ames: Barring a few kinks that should be ironed out over the next 11 months, all four venues look perfectly cut out for a World Cup; the stadia are modern and well-equipped, with access reasonably straightforward, while the cities are used to hosting foreigners and the welcome was universally warm. But key to 2018's overall success may well be venues like Saransk, Volgograd and Samara, where things are not quite as clear-cut and infrastructure for international visitors is less developed. There can be no real complaints about the last fortnight, but some question marks remain elsewhere.
Marshall: The host cities and their stadia are pretty much ready. Challenges remain in the further-flung venues and in base camps for teams, but the organization was generally positive. Security issues were also taken very seriously throughout the tournament; the feeling is that Russia will do everything possible to make sure the World Cup is a success.
Should the Confederations Cup have a future?
Marcotti: Given the scheduling for Qatar, I genuinely don't know how they'll be able to squeeze this in next time around. That said, it's worth sticking with and the World Cup dry run is very important. I don't get the animosity toward it from some, mostly of British extraction. No, it's not the World Cup but it means a lot to the teams in it. Germany resting guys this year was unprecedented and maybe more teams will do that in the future but, frankly, I doubt it. And, if you're going to replace it, what do you replace it with? Do you really want some kind of global Champions League redux to be played every summer?
Ogden: The premise of the tournament still stacks up, with the champions of each continent playing a preparatory competition in the World Cup host nation, a year from the big kickoff. For the organisers, it is an invaluable opportunity to see how things work and identify potential problems. But does the football calendar need it? Probably not. And how can FIFA stage it in Qatar in 2021 without disrupting league seasons across the globe?
Ames: In a sense, the farce -- and that is what it became -- around VAR justified this tournament's existence. It is accepted as a testing ground for all aspects of a World Cup and, as an arena for testing new technology in relatively harmless circumstances, it could hardly have been more appropriate. On the pitch, Germany showed another way in which it can be used to develop a team; although that was not the competition's original intention and many of the games are played at around 75 percent the intensity of World Cup fixtures. But it does no harm for a tournament's purpose to evolve and this year's event has presented a reasonably strong case for its continuation.
Marshall: That the Qatar World Cup will be held in December means organizing a Confederations Cup in 2001 is a headache. Plus, you have to factor in the rapidly shifting order in international football, with the introduction of the UEFA Nations League and the 48-team World Cup from 2026. That said, when you witness how keen the participating teams were to win in Russia, there is still merit in the tournament. It's also a crucial test run for the organizing country.
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