Had it not been for the death of Cameroon midfielder Marc-Vivien Foe during Thursday’s semifinals, the 2003 FIFA Confederations Cup would not be worth mentioning again after today’s final.
As it is, Foe’s death, of an apparent heart attack at 28, has turned Cameroon into the sentimental favorite in today’s game against France at the Stade de France in suburban Paris.
The French, naturally, view things differently, but even they would surely not begrudge Foe’s bereaved colleagues a championship, as long as it is well earned on the field.
For France to triumph in the eight-nation event will not add any luster to a country that has won a World Cup and a European Championship in the last half-decade.
The Confederations Cup, misbegotten stepchild of FIFA’s all-too-many competitions, would be merely an afterthought. Winning it will not give the French anything worth boasting about.
After all, what teams have they overcome to get to the final?
Colombia? The South Americans came in having been shut out by Mexico, South Korea and Honduras while preparing for the tournament. The French made it four shutouts in a row. No surprise there.
New Zealand? Not a chance. The Kiwis’ pitiful showing in the Cup validates FIFA’s decision Saturday to deny Oceania’s winner direct entry into the World Cup in 2006.
Japan? Of the three lesser teams making up the Confederations Cup numbers -- yes, the United States is the third -- the Japanese fared best of all. But they were no match for the European champion.
Turkey? The Turks have some talented individual players, but their coach, Senol Gunes, favors conspiracy theories. There is no need to take them seriously. France didn’t, and won its semifinal without undue alarm.
And that leaves it facing Cameroon today.
The Africans have not been scored upon in this tournament. The Indomitable Lions, who defeated world champion Brazil en route to the final, might have made a real game of it before Foe’s death.
Now, it will take every bit of German Coach Winfried Schaefer’s motivational skill to put them in the mood to play so soon after the tragedy.
Even France is not happy about having to play.
“Everyone on our team has either played with him at some points or played a match against him,” team captain Marcel Desailly said after France’s semifinal victory.
“In the end, it makes you realize today was not an important day for France, or French soccer. You see what happened and you don’t want to play.
“It’s only sports. He lost his life.”
Gunes, still under the delusion that Turkey’s third-place finish at Korea/Japan ’02 World Cup was deserved and not a fluke, mumbled incoherently about plots against his team after it had been beaten by Cameroon in the first round, 1-0.
“Someone out there tried to stop us reaching the final,” he claimed. "[Paraguayan referee Carlos Amarilla] used his judgment to favor the other team.”
Disappointment at losing a game is understandable. Ranting about plots shows a lack of maturity.
Imagine if the U.S. team had come home after its first-round exit -- two losses, one scoreless tie, one goal scored -- to newspapers calling for heads to roll.
Imagine if the headlines in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles had read: “A Historically Disgraceful Performance,” which is what the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper said of Brazil’s first-round exit.
The scathing coverage was typical.
“Having been ousted from a group that included Turkey, Cameroon and the United States does not deserve any comment other than to say that it was shameful,” observed O Globo.
In the U.S., few knew the Americans were even in the tournament, let alone out of it.
When he took over as coach of the world champions, Carlos Alberto Parreira knew he would once again come under the microscope.
He didn’t expect to be dissected quite this soon, however.
Brazil’s coach had an answer for his critics, though.
“We’ve got Robinho, Diego, Renato, Elano, Paulo Almeida, Ronaldo, Rivaldo ... if we wanted to field all these players that the supporters want in the team, I would have to play with 15 forwards,” he told Brazilian television. “But we have to have balance. There’s no point in having 15 names and no team.”
Brazil now gears up -- well, not really -- for next month’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, where it is an invited guest and faces Mexico, among others, in the first round.
The knives already are being sharpened.
Quite a Trio
Parreira has been in command for only six months. Last week, Carlos Queiroz also landed a new job, and before that Bora Milutinovic took charge of his sixth national team. All of which means this:
Former coaches of Major League Soccer’s New York/New Jersey MetroStars are now at the helm of world champion Brazil, Spanish champion Real Madrid and -- OK, it’s not quite as big a deal -- Serbia and Montenegro’s national team.
Bob Bradley, the Metro-Stars’ current coach, is waiting by the telephone.
No matter what else he did or did not accomplish during his sojourn in France, U.S. Coach Bruce Arena did manage to knock a few ego bumps off one-time wonder boy Landon Donovan, 21.
“I think he’s flattened out a little bit right now,” Arena told Associated Press. “I think he’s a little tired, and maybe mentally he’s probably experienced a lot of success and it’s gotten to him a little bit, so it’s hard for him to stay motivated all the time, and I think that impacts his performance on the field.
“Hopefully, he rekindles his enthusiasm to play more, which I think he will.”
Arena, to his credit, doesn’t buy Donovan’s argument about there being too many demands put on him.
“Real good players around the world are playing a lot more than Landon,” he said. “That’s the bottom line. He needs to decide if he wants to be one of those types of players.”
If not, well, Bayer Leverkusen might have been correct all along in cutting him loose to play in MLS.
Wenger Lashes Out
Donovan might have an ally in Arsenal Coach Arsene Wenger, who, despite being French, ripped into the Confederations Cup, saying that it serves only to “annoy clubs, coaches and players who are tired.”
Wenger told France Soir, a French daily, that the tournament was an unnecessary imposition on players.
“What’s the point of it?” he asked. “Nothing. I’m against this cup, which no one will remember in 10 years’ time.”
The same cannot be said of Foe. He will be remembered long after the 2003 Confederations Cup is forgotten.
France’s Mikael Silvestre put it best.
“Whoever wins [today’s] match,” he said, “it will be for him.”
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Europe’s 2003 Champions
*--* When Real Madrid last week clinched its 29th Spanish title, it marked the true end of the 2003 European season. These were the season’s major winners: COMPETITION WINNER RUNNER-UP European Champions League AC Milan (Italy) Juventus (Italy) UEFA Cup FC Porto (Portugal) Celtic (Scotland) Dutch Eerstedivisie PSV Eindhoven Ajax Amsterdam English Premier League Manchester United Arsenal French league Olympique Lyon AS Monaco German Bundesliga Bayern Munich VfB Stuttgart Italian Serie A Juventus Inter Milan Portuguese league FC Porto Benfica Spain’s La Liga Real Madrid Real Sociedad