Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Checking in on the Confederations Cup

Halfway through the Confederations Cup group stages we're getting a better sense of what to expect next summer, both on and off the field. Here's a look at some of the story lines.

Not much has changed for the US since 2006: The US appears no better or no worse than the team that went 0-2-1 at the 2006 World Cup. Team America can hang with the best in the world, but errors at critical moments are keeping them from breakthrough victories. Obviously being down a man was a fatal blow against Italy; the Azzurri had miles of open space in the second half when they scored three times. But what was far more frustrating from an American perspective were the early opportunities squandered by Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, both of whom broke into the box only to fire harmless shots.

The Oceania Qualifying Group needs to be dissolved: When Australia left the OFC after the 2002 World Cup to join the Asian Football Confederation, New Zealand and a collection of small island nations were left behind. For 2010, the winner of the OFC qualifying will take on the fifth place team from Asia for a final spot in the World Cup. Based on New Zealand's performance this week, that fixture should be a cake walk for their Asian opponents. With 5-0 and 2-0 losses to their credit, clearly no purpose is served by having New Zealand in this tournament.

FIFA is sweating all those empty seats: Foreign visitors will turn out in greater numbers next summer, but for the Confederations Cup, FIFA blames poor marketing for the rows of empty seats. As the New York Times explains, the turnout underscores the economic and racial divisions within South Africa.

Those trumpets are going to drive you nuts next summer: Those who are attending the matches are buzzing like bees, the result of the non-stop blaring from plastic trumpets known as vuvuzelas. The collective sound resembles the inside of a hive and reporters such as Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl and USA Today's Beau Dure have railed against the cacophony.

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