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Festival of Champions
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 18 - 06 - 2013

The FIFA Confederations Cup currently taking place in Brazil, the host nation of next year's World Cup, has been the talk of the Egyptian town. All eyes are glued to TV screens at home and coffee shops, restaurants and hotels. Egyptians are enjoying world class football, reminiscing about the time when the Pharaohs were there, in South Africa 2009 and the impressive games they played against Brazil, losing 4-3 in overtime, and the magnificent 1-0 win against the then World Cup champions Italy before surprisingly losing to the USA 3-0 and packing early back home to Cairo.
Because Egypt failed to make it to the last two editions of the Africa Cup of Nations, it lost its chance to make an appearance at the FIFA Confederations Cup which includes the six continental winners the year before, the World Cup winner and the host nation.
The FIFA Confederations Cup is usually a testing event to the World Cup, a chance to test stadium facilities and the operations of running the world's most prestigious event.
The eight teams are divided into two groups of four teams each. Group A includes Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Italy while Group B comprises Nigeria, Tahititi, Spain and Uruguay.
Play kicked off on Friday with the group stage being held until Sunday 23 June. By today, Thursday, each of the participating teams would have played two matches. The second round of the first stage ends today when Spain meets Tahiti and Nigeria takes on Uruguay in group B.
On Sunday, each team in group A played its second match. Brazil was scheduled to take on Mexico while Italy was to play against Japan in group A.
The decisive matches which will determine the top two teams in each group who will make it to the semi-finals will be held over this weekend. Saturday will see hosts Brazil clashing with Italy, the European champions while Mexico will take on Japan. On Sunday, Group B will decide the two qualifiers when Nigeria faces Spain and Uruguay takes on Tahiti.
The opening matches saw the host nation Brazil thrashing Japan 3-0 in the group A matches of the inaugural two-week event. The following day, Italy beat Mexico 2-1 in the same group. The opening matches of group B saw Spain beat Uruguay 2-1 while Tahiti and Nigeria were scheduled to meet on Monday.
From its first edition in Saudi Arabia 16 years ago, the FIFA Confederations Cup has gained a reputation for being a true celebration of football,l a ‘Festival of Champions.' FIFA.com provides a key statistic for every team involved in this year's event, plus a bonus stat in celebration of the tournament's ninth edition.
Brazil holds up more FIFA Confederations Cup participations than any other team; this year's event is their seventh since 1997, all of them consecutive. A Seleção have also won the most titles (three in 1997, 2005 and 2009) played the most matches (28), won the most games (18) and scored the most goals (64). Brazil also claimed their FIFA Confederations Cup titles across three different continents, having lifted the trophy in Saudi Arabia in 1997, Germany in 2005 and South Africa in 2009.
Shunsuke Nakamura and Hidetoshi Nakata are the only Japanese players to have scored in two different editions of the FIFA Confederations Cup. Nakamura netted three goals in 2003 and one in 2005, whereas Nakata was on target once in both the 2001 and 2003 editions.
Mexico are the only CONCACAF team to have won the trophy, achieving the feat as hosts in 1999 with a 4-3 win over Brazil in the final. That deciding match of the FIFA Confederations Cup 1999 generated the biggest attendance in the tournament's history, with 110,000 spectators packing into Mexico City's Azteca stadium on 4 August.
Before this tournament, the last match Italy played on Brazilian soil dates back to 1 July 1956, when they lost 2-0 to the host team in a friendly. Prior to that Gli Azzurri had contested two games at the 1950 FIFA World Cup, losing 3-2 to Sweden and beating Paraguay 2-0.
No fewer than 18 members of the Spanish squad at the FIFA Confederations Cup 2009 went on to be crowned world champions the following year in South Africa. During that 2009 campaign, the 2-0 defeat to the USA in the semi-finals of the FIFA Confederations Cup 2009 ended Spain's sequence of 35 matches undefeated, which equalled Brazil's world record set between 1993 and 1996. The run had begun on 7 February 2007 with a 1-0 victory over England in Manchester.
Uruguay's return to the FIFA Confederations Cup comes after a 16-year absence, which coincides with the time between their last two Copa America triumphs (1995-2011). In their only previous FIFA Confederations Cup campaign, Uruguay won their three group matches before losing their semi-final against Australia 1-0 after extra time. The winner was a golden goal struck by Harry Kewell on 92 minutes.
Tahiti are the third side to represent Oceania in the FIFA Confederations Cup, having been preceded by Australia (before their switch to the AFC in 2006) and New Zealand. Tahiti qualified by virtue of winning their first OFC Nations Cup in 2012. The islanders clinched the title with a 1-0 win over New Caledonia in the final on 10 June, thanks to a goal by Steevy Chong Hue.
Nigeria are one of two unbeaten teams in the history of the FIFA Confederations Cup, having won one match and drawn two. One of those stalemates took place in the match for third place, which the West Africans subsequently lost on penalties. The other undefeated team is Denmark, with two wins and a draw. Indeed, the only goal that Nigeria conceded in the tournament was netted by Mexico's Ramon Ramirez in the third place match, which finished 1-1 before the Super Eagles lost on penalties.
If he plays a single minute during the 2013 tournament, Uruguay's Andres Scotti would be the fourth oldest player to participate at a FIFA Confederations Cup following Tunisia's Ali Boumnijel (39 years, two months), Germany's Lothar Matthaeus (38 years, four months) and Japan's Ruy Ramos (37 years, 10 months).


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