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A troubled tournament looks forward

A tournament with a troubled history, the Confederations Cup is arguably the second most prestigious competition - behind the World Cup - staged by FIFA, but was only recognised as such in 1997.

The first time a competition of this type was seen was in the Mundialito (Spanish for "little World Cup") in 1980, when six teams from two confederations (UEFA and CONMEBOL) met in Uruguay, with the hosts beating Brazil 2-1 in the final.

In 1985, the Artemio Franchi Trophy saw the winners of the Copa America and the European Championships meet, with Euro '84 winners France picking up the trophy as hosts; before another competition, in 1993, saw Argentina restore some South American pride by beating Denmark.

Confederations around the globe had historical competitions which attempted to bridge the gaps between them - such as the Afro-Asian Cup of Nations and Panamerican Championship - but none had managed to unite them completely.

In 1992 the King Fahd Cup was staged in Saudi Arabia which was the first attempt at a unified competition. It brought together four nations, from four confederations (Argentina, Saudi Arabia, United States and Ivory Coast) and Argentina, once again, proved too good for the opposition with a squad consisting of the likes of Gabriel Batistuta and Claudio Caniggia - beating the hosts 3-1 in the final.

The competition was viewed as a success and was repeated in 1995, again in Saudi Arabia, but this time it involved six teams from five confederations. Only the World Cup winners, Brazil, were not invited and Euro '92 winners Denmark took home the prize after gaining revenge over Argentina for their 1993 defeat, with a 2-0 win.

FIFA took over the running of the 1997 competition, renaming it the Confederations Cup, and made it the first to feature all the teams involved in the current format. It was again staged in Saudi Arabia, but Germany (Euro '96 winners) declined to participate, so runners-up Czech Republic played in their place.

Australia would surprise everyone by reaching the final, but were put to the sword by winners Brazil, 6-0, as Romario and Ronaldo both netted hat-tricks.

For the first time, the 1999 competition would be staged outside of the Middle East and Mexico played host. This time, 1998 World Cup winners France pulled out and, as Brazil both were runners-up and also Copa America champions, Bolivia were invited to complete the set.

An average of 60,000 spectators watched the 16 matches and the competition began to win hearts and minds as Mexico won a 4-3 thriller against Brazil in front of 110,000 at the Estadio Azteca.

From 2001, FIFA made the competition a dress rehearsal for the World Cup finals taking place in the host country or countries. France had a hugely successful pre-finals tournament in 1997, Tournoi de France , won by England, doubtless giving FIFA the idea to create a more formal competition in World Cup stadia.

South Korea and Japan hosted jointly in 2001, with France taking both the World Cup and European Championship spots. France added to their trophy haul with a win over Japan in the final.

Tragically, just as the competition began to attract real attention, it was overshadowed by the death of Cameroon midfielder Marc-Vivien Foe, who collapsed and died on the pitch during his country's semi-final victory against Colombia in 2003, held in France.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter came under severe criticism at the time for saying straight away that the final would go ahead, before having had an opportunity to speak to the finalists France and Cameroon.

Trying to save face, Blatter claimed that the next tournament would be named after Foe, but the idea never came to fruition and the tournament will forever be remembered for the harrowing pictures of Foe being carried off the field.

The final itself was a sombre affair, with France and Cameroon both paying tribute to Foe and when French captain Marcel Desailly was presented with the trophy after his side's 1-0 win, he held it aloft in unison with his Cameroon counterpart Rigobert Song.

After years of countries pulling out of the tournament (including another refusal by World Cup runners-up Germany in 2003), FIFA made it compulsory for all continental champions to take part - except the European and South American ones - in 2005. They also changed the timing of the competition to occur every four years, now solely as a dress rehearsal for the World Cup.

Germany hosted the next tournament and it saw the first-ever final contested between two countries from the same confederation, Argentina and Brazil. In a torrential downpour in Frankfurt, Brazil overcame their arch-rivals 4-1 - paying them back for a World Cup qualifying defeat just a few weeks earlier - and the Confederations Cup was lauded as a triumph for attacking football, as an average of 3.5 goals per game flew in.

With a rich, but sad, history, all eyes will be on South Africa as the nation hosts the eighth Confederations Cup this month. With some still cynical about the country's ability to host the 2010 World Cup, the Confederations Cup provides an opportunity to show the world what it is capable of and lay some of the ghosts of the past to rest.


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