The 3rd of February is another big date in the run-up towards Russia’s first ever football World Cup. Exactly 500 days are left before the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017, a high-profile tournament featuring eight stellar teams with a multitude of football superstars. For Russia, this is also the last test in action before the World Cup, coming up 12 months later. The Confederations Cup is a relatively recent tournament initiated in the early 1990s as a private event in Saudi Arabia, sponsored by the local business community.
The idea was to treat the fans to a grand show of the best national teams from across the globe. Following the two debut King Fahd Cups, FIFA decided to take the tournament under its wing. The current Confederations Cup format gradually shaped up. The tournament is held once every four years among the current winners of all the significant titles, i.e. winners of the continental championships plus the world champion plus the national team of the host country, which is also the host country of the next World Cup scheduled a year later.
FIFA’s idea makes perfect sense. Other high-profile sports events, such as the Olympic Games, are preceded by all kinds of test events, staged by the host country. The self-evident rationale of those test events is never questioned: they test the facilities, infrastructure, and the performance of the various agencies of the Organizing Committee and attendant services. The testing insures against unforeseen emergencies in the future, exposes irregularities and flaws. The value of test events to the athletes is equally obvious: most of them quite appreciate a chance to experience the local environment and the facility where they will soon be vying for the ultimate trophy.
The Confederations Cup is such a test event, a military drill of sorts in near-combat conditions. The final rehearsal requires an approach no less responsible than the treatment that will be given to the forthcoming World Cup. The scale of the Confederations Cup, although clearly more modest compared to the world’s premier football event, is nonetheless quite significant in every sense, and particularly, in terms of the host’s visibility. Suffice it to say that the previous Confederation Cup was witnessed by an aggregate live audience exceeding 800,000, while the final, in which Brazil won 3-0 against Spain, was watched by nearly 70 million on TV.
The test will be doubly important and beneficial for Russia, gearing up to host its first World Cup, but also more challenging for Russia as a novice.
The Russian Confederations Cup 2017
The Russian Confederations Cup, to open on 17 June 2017, will see 16 games in four of the 11 World Cup host cities. The four cities are Sochi, Kazan, Moscow and St. Petersburg. The four arenas in these four host cities – Fisht, Kazan Arena, Spartak and St. Petersburg – must be fully ready for the Confederations Cup, as ready as they would be for the World Cup. Each arena gets an equal number of games, but St. Petersburg also privileged to host the final on 2 July.
Readiness of the arenas is, by far, not the only thing the guests and experts will be sizing up. The cities, too, must be ready, and all the services and programmes of the Russia-2018 Organizing Committee must work like clockwork: ticketing, transportation, security, volunteers, and barrier-free environment for people with disabilities. Many of the volunteers will experience the Confederations Cup as a full-blown internship for their “real job” at the World Cup, while their peers will watch and learn. The overall mission of the Organizing Committee at the Confederations Cup is to show that the preparations are going on schedule, attest its competencies, and demonstrate prompt and efficient problem-solving/troubleshooting capabilities.
The host country, as we know, is exempted from the draw, but this privilege comes with a downside. Although formally included in one of the play-off groups, the Russia team will lose its qualification to play official matches for two years. From then on, all its matches will be friendlies. While friendlies are just as good for keeping the team in shape and testing the different line-ups and tactics, they are not an equal substitute for official games in many other aspects. The opposing teams never skimp on star players in an official game, so motivation runs high and, accordingly, the fight heats up.
All this goes to show that the Confederations Cup will be the ultimate test in action for the Russia national squad. It is not customary to “pull one’s punches” at a Confed Cup. Chances are, the Confederations Cup will serve as that crucible from which the final, World Cup-worthy line-up will emerge.
The 8 winners: Who Will Play Confederations Cup
The draw for the Russian Confederations Cup will take place on 26 November 2016 at Kazan’s Tennis Academy. The eight national teams will be split into two groups. So far, five participants are known, to be joined by two more – EURO and Oceania Cup winners – next year, the eighth one to be named two and a half months after the draw, when the African Nations Cup ends.
Whoever ends up filling the three remaining vacancies, it is clear beyond doubt that the level of the tournament will be as high as it gets. Apart from the Russian team, qualified for the Confederations Cup have been Germany, Chile, Mexico and Australia. Germany deserves it as the world champions, while the rest have earned their pass by winning their respective regional championships: South America and the nations of North and Central America, the Caribbean and Asia, which took Australia aboard a few years ago. The Germans are, plain and simple, officially the best football team on the planet, and enough said. The Chileans and Mexicans got as far as the starting play-offs of the previous World Cup Brazil in 2014, where they nearly beat the hosts and the favourites, and also the Dutch.
Last season the Chile squad triumphed at the South American championship, taking on and beating the Argentineans, no less, in the final. The Australians are also a tough nut to crack. Moreover, all these teams are guaranteed to bring a constellation of football megastars to Russia, the likes of Germans Thomas Mueller, Manuel Neuer, Mesut Ozil, Toni Kroos and Marco Reus, Chileans Arturo Vidal, Claudio Bravo and Alexis Sanchez, Mexicans Javier Hernandez, Carlos Vela and Jonathan dos Santos, and Aussie Tim Cahill. As said before, it is not customary to use backup players at a Confederations Cup. Yet another stellar squad will be joining in later, guaranteed to be supplied by the champions of Africa and Asia, not to mention Europe.
In a nutshell, the Confederations Cup is a luxury gift for the football fans, and a grand intro to the world’s favourite football festival FIFA 2018.