Monday, June 29, 2009

Confederations Cup--is it meaningful?

I'll post about poker later today, but this is straight soccer, so skip at your leisure...

There is some confusion about the relative importance of the US making it to the Finals of soccer's second most important international tournament. Is the Confed cup, as one of my friends put it, the "Who gives a sh** cup?" No. I wish there was an easy comparison to other sports that nonsoccer fans would get but there is none. The Playoffs and Superbowl is the only competition in the NFL. Golf has four majors. Same with tennis. While you could argue Wimbledon or the Masters is slightly bigger than the others, they each count as a Grand Slam.

The Olympics and the World Cup are events 1 and 2 in terms of global sports. In some places the Olympics is more important (here) but in most places THE sporting event is the World Cup. In fact, the world cup is so big, any tournament pales in comparison. So, perhaps college basketball provides a ready comparison because March Madness and the N.I.T., are two tournaments in one sport where the first is THE biggest deal and the second is an also-ran. I had a texting debate with a friend of mine in New York who viewed the Confederations Cup as meaningless and disparaged it as the N.I.T. The analogy only holds true in terms of scope, however, in all other respects it fails.

The N.I.T. invites the best teams that didn't make the NCAAs. The Confeds cup invites the champions of each regions (comparable to conference champs which get auto-bids to the NCAA). Europe is represented by the team that won the European Cup (Spain), South America by the team that won Copa America (Brazil), and so on. Then the host nation of the world cup is given a bid (South Africa), and the defending world cup champion (Italy) is also invited.

This narrow selection or qualifying process creates a couple of contradictions. Like the world cup, every team in the world can qualify for the confed cup, however, unlike the world cup no more than three teams can come from one region and usually only one team represents a region. Three teams would be an odd event too, as it would take separate teams from, say Europe, winning the world cup, winning the euro cup, and hosting the next world cup.

So, being so exclusive actually shuts the door on fan interest in many places in the world. Some soccer playing countries like England, Russia, Portugal etc. have never made it to the tournament and have less interest in it. Then they look at the lineup and see half the tournament being comprised of realtive minnows like the African champs (Egypt), the Oceania champs (New Zealand), Concacaf champs (the U.S.) and the Asia Champs (Iraq). So they dismiss it. In one respect it's more exclusive than the world cup, in another, it's woeful in comparison.

The World Cup will have all the top teams from Europe and South America battling each other, in the Confed Cups only their champions will be there. The World Cup has more depth, but the confed cup is a harder tournament for say an England to qualify for.

The truth of the matter, it's a big, big deal, to the champions of smaller regions, and a big deal to the biggest teams in the world that regularly qualify for it. You only need to look at the weeping of a vicitorious Brasil team to know the Confed cup means something to them. Every big team in the tournament brought their best team, and started their best players. This was no N.I.T. by any stretch of the imagination. The N.I.T. doesn't invite the top 3 teams.

The World Cup now has 32 teams. You will never find a group as tough as the one the U.S. played in, in a world cup. Italy, Brazil, the U.S., Egypt. Won't happen. Course you will never find all top 8 teams in the world in the Confederation cup, any time soon, with the elite mostly in Europe and South America.

There could be some debate about the European Cup or Copa America being bigger or more important tournaments than the confederations cup. They are certainly bigger but each are regional, not globabl (even if the world watches the Euro). Add in the fact, winning them qualifies them for the Confederations Cup, structually they are on a lower rung on the ladder.

Most Europeans or South Americans, would prefer winning the Euro or Copa America to winning the Confeds cup, I'd imagine, but it's an odd choice because it's almost impossible to win the Confed cup without winning the European or Copa America.

So, because any and everything in soccer is complicated, the U.S. incredible run in this tournament is burdened by justifying the tournament's worth. It's not the World Cup (nothing is) but it is the second biggest globabl tournament there is and is treated pretty seriously in places like Brasil, France, Argentina, Germany, Italy and Spain. Your limey friend might dismiss it as a crap tournament but you can tell him that's just because England just can't seem to qualify for it.

What the U.S. accomplished in making the finals is incredible. Being 2-0 up on Brasil in such a final is something few teams can ever brag about. Also goes to show you anything can happen in sports and sports betting. One bettor got the U.S. at astronomical odds to win the Confederations Cup, when all looked lost, and had to be irate when they lost that two goal lead.




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