Magnificent Eight

The most interesting facts about the teams of the Confederations Cup 2017
07 February
February 5, 2017 saw the final team added to the Confederations Cup 2017 pool – Cameroon. The country’s national team emerged Champion of the 2017 CAF Africa Cup of Nations. It’s joining the teams from Russia, Australia, Germany, Mexico, New Zealand, Portugal and Chile..

Russia – The Host

Russia is taking part in the Confederations Cup for the first time. The team is undergoing a complete makeover at the moment: the coaches are inviting new players to the roster while many veterans, whose positions seemed sealed for many years, are not on the list.

Taking part in the Confederations Cup is an important step in the team’s preparation to the World Cup it’s hosting the following year. The whole country has high hopes for the team to repeat the success which was quite common in Soviet times.

The Soviet Union team was a frequent guest at World Cups. Reaching the group stage was a common achievement, however the team couldn’t move far into the play-offs.

The team’s highest achievement of all time was 4th place at the World Cup 1966. Back then, the team featured players like Albert Sherstenev, Valery Voronin, Slava Metreveli, and the legendary Lev Yashin was goalkeeper.
Russia’s team hosts the World Cup and therefore did not participate in qualification rounds, so the Confederations Cup is the team’s last chance for a test of strength at the highest level. © Valery Sharifulin/TASS

In 1956 the Soviet Union won at the Olympics in Melbourne and four years later became the first ever winners of the UEFA European Championship, beating Yugoslavia in the finals. The Confederations Cup was not around at the time, not even as an idea.

The Soviet team is still one of the most successful European teams to date: after 1960, the USSR had three more chances at the silverware (1964, 1972, 1988) but couldn’t manage to seal victory in the final match.

In 2008 Russia took bronze at the Euro, which remains its top achievement in the 21st century. The team qualified for the finals in the Euro 2012, World Cup 2014 and Euro 2016, but couldn’t make it past the group stage in either.

In August 2016, Stanislav Cherchesov became head coach of the team after leading Legia Warsaw to a Polish double.

Germany – World Champions

The best way to accurately speak of Germany’s legacy is to quote Gary Lineker “Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.”

With their 2014 World Cup victory, the Germans are now just one step behind Brazil in the number of football’s most coveted trophies, holding four titles while Brazil have five.

Germany leads, however, in other stats. They’ve made it to eight final matches (Brazil – seven) and have more silverware – 12 (4 gold, 4 silver and 4 bronze) against 9 (5-2-2) for Brazil.
At the Euro Cup in France, Germany were considered favorites, yet took only bronze. © Alexander Demyanchuk/TASS

Germany’s team has been equally strong on the European arena. Germany is the highest-performing team in European championships with three gold, three silver and three bronze trophies.

At the latest Euro tournament, Joachim Loew’s team was considered an all-round favorite, yet lost in the semi-finals to the hosts France, which came as a big surprise for many fans.

Despite all the silverware in these two tournaments, Germany has so far not been too successful in FIFA Confederations Cups. In 1999 Germany didn’t make it past the group stage, while at their home tournament in 2005 they lost 2:3 to Brazil in the semis.

Once again, Germany are considered this year’s favorites for the Confederations Cup in Russia, even though their line-up is still unknown.

Portugal – European Champions

The Portuguese team first appeared on the global arena in the 1966 World Cup in England and straight away took the bronze home. By the way, they snatched the silverware from the Soviet team.

However, Portugal has not managed to build on that success and couldn’t qualify for big tournaments for 20 years.

Portugal have been strong in European tournaments since the turn of the century. In 2016 the team became European champions for the first time. © Alexander Demyanchuk/TASS

In 1984 the team celebrated their first entry of the Euro cup finals by taking the bronze. They almost made it to the final, but in the added time of the match with France Michel Platini scored the winning goal, propelling his team to the final match. The devastation led to another pause for Portugal which ended only in the end of the 1990s with the coming of new start like Luis Figo, Rui Costa and Fernando Couto.

In the new millennium, Portugal made it twice to the semis of the European tournament. It also lost the final match to Greece in 2004 at home. And then, in 2016, the team finally took the title.

However this gold, won against France on their soil, left a mixed aftertaste – in the seven matches the Champions had only won against Wales (2:0) in regular time. All the other matches ended in a draw and were decided in extra time or in a penalty shootout. Hard to deny, however, that the ability to wait and resist is also a feat of a Champion.

We will soon find out if Portugal will maintain its tradition of debuts with a bang.

Chile – South America’s Strongest

The third team to debut at the Confederations Cup is arriving from one of the world’s longest beaches.

Chile’s national team is one of the world’s oldest to participate in Continental and World Cups. More than a century ago, in 1916, it was one of the four teams to play in the first ever Copa America, and has not left the spotlight in the tournament’s history since.

Chile’s national team became South America’s champion twice in the last two years and are now considered one of the strongest squads in the world. © Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

In the 20th century, the team fought many times for Copa America trophies, made it to the finals four times, but never won. No matter how hard they tried, Chile would remain in the shadow of the Big Three – Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.

Their top international achievement was the 1962 bronze at their home World Cup.

The matches of the World Cup 1962 were supposed to be held at stadiums in 8 Chilean cities. However the Great Chilean earthquake two years prior forced the organizers to reconsider the schedule and locations of the matches, as many large Chilean cities cancelled the events after the disaster. The main games were played at the country’s largest stadium in Santiago which could seat 64,000 spectators. It hosted 10 of the Cup’s matches including the final between Brazil and Czechoslovakia (3:1.)

In recent years that team has bloomed into one of the strongest in the world. It holds the 4th place in FIFA’s national ranking, just a little bit behind Germany in 3rd.

Mexico – CONCACAF Gold Cup Winner

This is Mexico’s seventh Confederations Cup, so now they will match Brazil in this respect.

Mexico has had a record number of times it qualified for the World Cup among countries that never managed to win it. This, perhaps, is the essence of the team – stably strong to qualify, not enough to win.
Mexico is a 10-time CONCACAF Gold Cup winner. © David J. Becker/Getty Images

Mexico has always shown exemplary team spirit and morale. One of its most distinguished players is the team captain, Rafael Marquez. This centre back has been on the national team roster since 1997, played in four World Cups and has every chance of making it to his fifth one in Russia in 2018. Should this happen, he will become the world’s fourth player to participate in five World Cups along with Germany’s Lothar Matthaus, Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon, and Marquez’s compatriot Antonio Carbajal who played for the team in from 1950 to 1966.

Mexico holds the most silverware in the CONCACAF, hence its regular participation in the Confederations Cup is no surprise. However it managed to take the Cup home only once – in 1999. By the way, back then Marquez was already playing an important role in the team.

It was Mexico’s home tournament, and it went down in history as the one with the highest attendance rates, with average spectator numbers per match at more than 60,000. The fantastic final match with Brazil that Mexico won 4:3 gathered 110,000 fans at the Estadio Azteca.

Australia – Asia’s Champion

For a long time Australia was not on the Asian arena, but in Oceania. There, they had only rival – New Zealand, and the two teams would take turns in winning the OFC Nations Cup. The other nations would stand much of a chance against the Socceroos. The teams of Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Cook Islands and others were far from Australia’s level and would often suffer double-digit defeat. In 2001, the qualification match for the World Cup 2002 between Australia and American Samoa resulted in the highest score ever in an international match - 31:0.
Australia is governed by the Asian Football Confederation since 2006. In 2015 the country won its first Asian Cup. © Michael Dodge/Getty Images

But as soon as the team would encounter a serious opponent, it would lose, for example at the qualification play-offs for the World Cup. The team managed to win the Oceania tournament, but would lose the play-off match in 1986, 1994, 1998 and 2002. From January 1, 2006 Australia is officially governed by the Asian Football Confederation, and that’s when things started to move up. Under the management of Guus Hiddink, the Socceroos managed to proceed to the World Cup 2006 finals and even the group stage. That team was branded the “golden generation”.

New Zealand – Oceania Champion

Oddly enough, Australia’s exodus to Asia did not leave New Zealand the unbeatable champion of Oceania. The team is the tournament’s favorite, no doubt, but at the OFC Nations Cup 2012 the kiwis slipped in the match with New Caledonia in the semis and took only bronze.
New Zealand head coach Anthony Hudson said the team would fight for the play-offs following the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017 draw. © Sergey Fadeichev/TASS

In 2010 New Zealand made it to the finals in South Africa where it managed to everyone’s surprise end all three group stage matches in a draw, with Italy, Paraguay and Slovakia.

This will be the fourth time the kiwis take part in the Confederations Cup. In 1999, 2003 and 2009 the team couldn’t make it out of the group.

Cameroon – Africa King

Cameroon emerged as the final participant of the tournament having won the Africa Cup of Nations on February 5, 2017.

Cameroon is one of the strongest teams in the continent’s history. The golden age of the Untameable Lions as the team is known was in the 80s, when Cameroon won two out of three tournaments.

1982 was the first year the country sent their national team to the World Cup, where the team drew all three group stage matches against Italy, Peru and Poland.
In February, Cameroon’s national team became a five-time winner of the Africa Cup of Nations. © Visionhaus/Corbis via Getty Images

In those days the star of the team was Roger Milla also known as “The Old Sorcerer”. His skill was acknowledged worldwide when the Lions made it as far the quarter-finals, but lost to England in extra time. Also, the team’s manager back in the day was Valery Nepomnyashy from the USSR.

Milla made history as the oldest goal scorer in finals of international football matches in the match with Russia. The man was 42 years and 39 days old when he tipped the ball it into the net guarded by Russia’s present manager Stanislav Cherchesov. The match is also famous for the only 5 successive goals in one match scored by the same player – Oleg Salenko, Russia’s striker, who ended up getting the Golden Boot of the tournament despite Russia’s being knocked out of the group stage.

Cameroon took part in the Confederations Cup twice – in 2001 and 2003. The latter was a success, albeit not ultimate, as Cameroon progressed from the first place in its group, having beaten World Cup champions Brazil, to lose in extra time to France in the final match.

With five Africa Cup of Nations golds, Cameroon is the second most successful African team in history.