Italy qualified for the Confederations Cup as World Cup holders. Thrown into the ‘harder’ group, Italy were amongst favourites Brazil, a burgeoning Egypt and a physically strong United States outfit. Meanwhile Euro 2008 winners Spain, found themselves in a group comprised of a team who have not qualified for next year’s World Cup – Asian champions Iraq, South Africa, who only qualified as the host nation and New Zealand who have yet to make their mark on the international stage.
On paper, Italy were almost assured of a place in the semi-final but results on the pitch told a different story…
Group Stage – First matches
The opening match of the tournament saw South Africa square up to Iraq. The dull draw did little for the reputation of the tournament as Iraq fought to keep a clean sheet and South Africa highlighted their inexperience at this level by failing to finish any of their chances at goal. However, the subsequent match that pitted favourites Spain against New Zealand proved a goal-fest as La Furia Roja unleashed their talent on the hapless Kiwis who could do little to restrain them. Marcello Lippi was impressed and the rest of Group A were left fearing a similar fate.
Brazil were left dumbfounded in their first game as Egypt kept the ball for much of the game and never allowed the South Amercians the chance to relish their goals. The first 15 minutes saw three goals and amid some stunning action, Brazil only managed to win the match with a controversial late penalty. Egypt accepted that the penalty was deserved as their defender momentarily forgot he was not the goalkeeper but the Africans insisted that the referee did not in fact witness the action and had had to rely on video evidence.
Next up, Italy faced the tactically weak but physically strong USA, and the game started poorly as the holes in the Azzurri midfield allowed the Americans too much space. Once again the 4-3-3 formation, Italy’s kryptonite, stifled creativity and led to Azzurri passiveness. Fortunately for Italy they were soon a man up when the USA were issued their first (of many) red card for a late foul. However, despite their man advantage they still conceded a penalty to allow their opponents the lead. As is usually the case, Italy had to make things hard for themselves in order to rediscover their motivation. Lippi altered the formation at half-time, introducing a Villarreal wonderkid and taking off an ageing stalwart. American-born Giuseppe Rossi once again displayed his prestigious talent by scoring a screamer from 30 yards while Daniele De Rossi, exorcised his demons of the last meeting between the two teams when he was sent off, to double the lead. Rossi finished with a brace and the Italian media went into frenzy as angry Italian fans showed their displeasure at the performance, crediting the win to the fact that USA had one less man. Gennaro Gattuso looked tired. The strikers, barring Rossi, were hopelessly out of form and the starting formation was heavily flawed. Lippi surely had to have learnt his lesson with regard to the 4-3-3 line-up, but would Italy’s poor showing be enough to bury it alongside the memory of Roberto Donadoni as Coach.
Not quite. Lippi stuck with the disastrous formation for the game against the Pharaohs who remained loyal to their own tactics. Egypt stifled the relatively competent midfield, allowing the Italians to wear themselves out and defending their goal with true grit and strength. The Azzurri conceded a goal due to poor marking from a corner in the first half and once again faced the difficult task of fighting back. Desperation kicked in and although Italy fought gamely to level the score in the second half, a lack of real quality finishers left the Azzurri defeated. Meanwhile, those back on the peninsula were left to wonder what had happened to their capability of producing illustrious strikers. A defeat in the group stage had been anticipated, but not against an unfancied Egypt outfit. Lippi needed a shock to make necessary changes and his coaching skills left a lot to be desired – he was simply not playing his fallen stars in their right positions, suffocating their talent.
Meanwhile, Brazil cruised to victory against USA, securing a place in the semi-finals in an easy match in which Serie A stars, Maicon and Felipe Melo really shone, as the latter headed in the first goal. The “I want to humiliate [Fabio] Cannavaro” Robinho doubled the lead and right-back Maicon finished them off with the third to prove why Inter should not prioritise Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s contract ahead of his.
In the other group, Iraq’s 10-man defence ensured that they were not humiliated by the Spanish diamond midfield and allowed them only one goal as Spain wasted copious amounts of chances. David Villa proved that a €40m price tag is perhaps a tad high but his patience finally paid dividends in the second half when he managed to notch the only goal. Elsewhere, South Africa found their confidence to convincingly beat New Zealand 2-0 in the other group match, the Kiwis surprisingly only making one change to the team humiliated by Spain.
The Furia Roja found it difficult to create many chances against the hosts South Africa with Villa squandering an opportunity to open the scoring from the penalty spot. However, he redeemed himself a minute later to put Spain one-up before Fernando Torres doubled their lead to ensure nine points for Vicente del Bosque’s men. In the other group match, both teams were eliminated from the competitionj. Iraq was desperate to keep the semi-final dream alive but the game only came to life late in the second half as Iraq fruitlessly poured forward while the Kiwis once again proved that football is not their forte.
The hotly anticipated clash between Brazil and Italy followed the next day with the Brazilians confident in their ability to beat the world champions. And indeed they did as they scored three in eight minutes at the end of the first half. If ever there was a match that highlighted the grave ineptitude of the current Azzurri, this was it. The defence was a shambles, the midfield dull and the strikeforce a complete and utter joke. To make matters worse, the, you’ve guessed it, 4-3-3 formation was used once again. Italy appeared to be playing in slow motion as they laboured to pass the ball from the back to the front and the squad proved itself to be old, weak and simply not good enough.
There was an abundance of space for the Selecao and Italy, once famed for their unbreakable defence, made a mockery of their own footballing philosophy. A mistake from Cannavaro led to Brazil’s first goal, and the South American champions doubled their lead just five minutes later thanks to a second strike from the underrated Luis Fabiano. Next up, Andrea Dossena – desperate for a return to the peninsula – did a fine job of highlighting his absolute incompetence at the back by turning Robinho’s cross past his own keeper for Brazil’s third. As has been the routine, Italy began to rush for a goal in the second period as news of Egypt’s hammering in the other group game filtered through to Lippi. A goal was all that separated Italy from a place in the semi-finals by virtue of goal difference but it seemed impossible with ball after ball landing at the feet of Simone Pepe, who just couldn’t finish. Rossi tried to work his magic but his great touch appeared restricted to shots from distance as he failed to impress inside the box. Italy was deservedly sent crashing out of the tournament against a team hardly glittering in comparison to past generations.
The USA stunned the world by smashing home three goals against Egypt. The Americans needed to win the match and complete a six-goal turn around to achieve the unthinkable and qualify for the semi-finals, and despite a good start for the Egyptians, the Americans whipped three in to confound all the doubters and go through to the next round after Italy’s capitulation at the hands of Brazil.
2009 FIFA Confederations Cup fixtures & results
South Africa 0-0 Iraq – June 14, 2009 – Johannesburg
Spain 5-0 New Zealand – June 14, 2009 – Rustenburg
Spain 1-0 Iraq – June 17, 2009 – Bloemfontein
South Africa 2-0 New Zealand – June 17, 2009 – Rustenburg
New Zealand 0-0 Iraq – June 20, 2009 – Johannesburg
South Africa 0-2 Spain – June 20, 2009 – Bloemfontein
Standings after three games – Spain 9, South Africa 4, Iraq 2, New Zealand 1
Brazil 4-3 Egypt – June 15, 2009 -Bloemfontein
Italy 3-1 USA – June 15, 2009 – Pretoria
USA 0-3 Brazil– June 18, 2009 – Pretoria
Italy 0-1 Egypt – June 18, 2009 – Johannesburg
Italy 0-3 Brazil – June 21, 2009 – Pretoria
Egypt 0-3 USA – June 21, 2009 – Rustenburg
Standings after three games – Brazil 9, USA 3, Italy 3, Egypt 3