- Teams may argue that the Confederations Cup is great preparation for the World Cup and a chance to prove themselves–but winning the competition has foreshadowed misfortune on the biggest stage.
When the 10th Confederations Cup kicks off Saturday in Saint Petersburg, it will do so with Brazil absent from the tournament of continental champions for the first time since 1995. FIFA and the host, Russia, will miss Brazil. The five-time world champions arguably are the sport’s biggest draw. But Brazil may not be missing Russia. After recent World Cup let-downs, the Seleção probably will be happy to take the preceding summer off.
Three straight Confederations Cup crowns, and then three straight World Cup failures: that’s been Brazil’s experience in each of the past three cycles. Is there a connection? Search for “maldição copa confederações” on Google and you get a solid 315,000 results, so somebody thinks there is. Anyone who believes in a Confederations Cup curse doesn’t have to search that hard for evidence. No tournament winner has gone on to claim the ensuing world championship, and, in fact, most of them have suffered through World Cups they’d like to forget.
On the surface, it doesn’t seem like a crazy statistic. The Confederations Cup features just eight teams, and only two or three of those typically have reasonable World Cup prospects. There will be more contenders who miss the Confederations Cup than participate. Plus, this “curse” doesn’t seem to rise to the level of whatever happens to Mexico in the World Cup’s round of 16 or to England in penalty shootouts. And it’s not as eerie as Benfica’s string of failures in continental finals or the carnage that ensues whenever Aaron Ramsey scores a goal.
But the facts can’t be faked. And after three consecutive World Cup failures, some Brazilians just might believe that their Copa América quarterfinal loss to Paraguay two years ago was the smartest part of their World Cup prep.
Here’s the case for the curse:
Confed Cup 1992 - World Cup 1994
1992 - Argentina won the inaugural tournament in Saudi Arabia without Diego Maradona.
1994 - But he returned to the squad two years later for the World Cup in the USA. Argentina followed up on two straight appearances in the final with a stunning round-of-16 loss to Romania. Maradona missed the match after he was expelled from the competition for ephedrine doping. The Confederations Cup curse was off to a roaring start.
Confed Cups 1995/1997 - World Cup 1998
1995 and 1997 - The Confederations Cup was staged on a biennial basis from 1995 through 2005, and Denmark (’95) and Brazil (’97) were crowned champions of the two tournaments preceding the World Cup in France.
1998 - And they met there in a quarterfinal. Brazil won an action-packed affair in Nantes, 3-2, and seemed ready to laugh in the face of the nascent curse by appearing in the ensuing World Cup final. Appear is about all they did, however. Ronaldo got mysteriously sick before the match and he and the rest of the Seleção sleepwalked through a 3-0 rout by the hosts.
Confed Cups 1999/2001 - World Cup 2002
1999 and 2001 - The rest of the world discovered how hard it is to win in Mexico as El Tri captured the ’99 Confederations Cup at the Estadio Azteca. They beat the USA in the semis and Brazil in the final. Two years later in Yokohama, France defeated host Japan in the title game. At that point, Les Bleus were the reigning World Cup, European and Confederations Cup champions.
2002 - Then they somehow lost to debutant Senegal in the opening game of the ’02 World Cup. France finished 0-2-1 and suffered an almost incomprehensible first-round exit. Mexico’s fate was just as upsetting. El Tri was knocked out by the arch-rival Americans in the round of 16.
Incidentally, Brazil’s ’02 World Cup title followed an ’01 Confederations Cup performance that was the second-worst of its seven appearances.
Confed Cups 2003/2005 - World Cup 2006
2003 and 2005 - France hosted the Confederations Cup in ’03 and beat Cameroon in a final remembered for Thierry Henry’s golden goal and the sad, somber mood that followed the death of Indomitable Lion midfielder Marc-Vivien Foé. Two years later, Brazil won the first of its three straight Confederations Cups with a 4-1 thumping of hated Argentina that surely left the Seleção feeling good heading into ’06.
2006 - In Germany, the Confederations Cup winners met in a quarterfinal in Frankfurt, where a virtuoso Zinedine Zidane performance sent Brazil packing. France had rebounded from the ’02 disappointment. It was playing to its potential and returned to the final. This was the chance to end the curse. Then Zidane lost his mind and Les Bleus fell to Italy on penalties.
Confed Cup 2009 - World Cup 2010
2009 - USA fans who don’t have to worry too much about World Cup curses were thrilled with the Americans’ absurd escape from group play and then the semifinal upset of top-ranked Spain. Brazil came from behind in Confederations Cup final, however, setting itself up for a rough go when it returned to South Africa the following summer.
2010 - Wesley Sneijder ran riot as Brazil imploded in a quarterfinal loss to the Netherlands. Only a curse could explain Felipe Melo’s ridiculous red-card stomp on Arjen Robben that sealed Brazil’s fate.
Confed Cup 2013 - World Cup 2014
2013 - Brazil was the Confederations Cup host this time and the pressure was on. Paulinho’s 86th-minute goal lifted Brazil past rival Uruguay in the semis—there’s one curse down—and then Neymar and Co. destroyed world champion Spain, 3-0, in the title game.
2014 - Another chance to end the hex—Brazil hadn’t lost a competitive match on home soil in 39 years. But the stage was set for the most brutal manifestation of the Confederations Cup curse so far. Neymar broke his back in the quarterfinal against Colombia, and then Brazil hobbled into the humiliating, historic semifinal ambush by Germany. Think of the images that “Mineirazo” and “7-1” bring to mind, and it’s hard to believe there was such joy on Brazilian faces just 12 months earlier in Rio.