Play TheFantasyFootball on Facebook

Confederations Cup: Ronaldo the star attraction at Russia’s nervy dress rehearsal

Cristiano Ronaldo - cropped Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates winning Euro 2016 in Paris (source: Getty)

If Chile captain Claudio Bravo inflicts his Manchester City form upon the 2017 Confederations Cup, tournament organisers are likely to feel a significant pang of frustration.

From domestic and European titles to the Ballon d’Or, shot through the lens of club football’s fiercest rivalry, the defining frontier of 21st century football is Lionel Messi versus Cristiano Ronaldo.

For a competition that serves a purpose as a World Cup test event, producing a reasonable share of entertaining clashes condemned to not living too long in the memory, billing this Confederations Cup as Messi v Ronaldo would have made for a blockbusting start to the countdown for Russia 2018.

And it would have been a reality but for Bravo – then the respected Barcelona gloveman as opposed to Premier League slapstick artist – ensuring Chile prevailed over Messi’s Argentina in the 2015 Copa America final penalty shootout.

That was an upset in line with Portugal stunning hosts France at Euro 2016 a year later, despite Ronaldo being reduced to an impressively vocal cheerleading role on the touchline after his participation in the final was curtailed by a knee injury.

Indeed, the enjoyable trend of upsets in the major continental competitions enthrals at the tournaments in question – also see Cameroon overcoming the demonstrably better equipped Senegal, Ghana and Egypt to win the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year – but they perhaps leave FIFA’s event to crown the champion of champions looking a little threadbare.

The approach taken by 2014 World Cup winners Germany adds to this impression. Joachim Low has allowed most of his frontline stars to sit this one out and responded to once-capped RB Leipzig midfielder Diego Demme pulling out over the weekend through injury by calling up no one to replace him.

Portugal, by contrast, have Ronaldo leading a full-strength group. The 32-year-old lining up alongside Bernardo and Andre Silva is an attacking combination with golden potential.

Similarly, Chile will look to extend the proud South American tradition in the tournament by following up their 2015 Copa America and 2016 Copa Centenario triumphs with more silverware. Alexis Sanchez might have to dodge reporters’ questions over his Arsenal future with the same deftness he evades opposition defenders on the field.

Success for any of the competition favourites is more likely to provide a hint or a nudge over prospects as opposed to an iron-clad guarantee of being World Cup frontrunners a year from now.

In 2013, Brazil’s rampant final win papered over cracks that Germany would brutally and humiliatingly rip apart when it mattered most, while Spain’s loss to the hosts was an unheeded warning over the imminent end of their imperial period.

Australia, champions for the first time since becoming Asian Football Confederation members, make up Group B along with Chile, Cameroon and Low’s scratch Germany offering. If the world champions prevail in their present form it will show stunning depth and speak impressive volumes for their chances of becoming the first nation since Brazil in 1962 to retain the World Cup.

The presence of Mexico alongside Portugal in Group A throws up the very real chance of the hosts departing their own party comfortably before the medals are distributed. Russia’s opener against New Zealand – winless in three previous Confederations Cup appearances – must be negotiated with a minimum of fuss to sate a public low on patience after a series of shambolic major tournament appearances.

Indeed, Russia’s most notable and regrettable contribution to Euro 2016 was brutal, organised fan hooliganism. Such an embarrassment cannot afford to happen again on home soil, particularly after a week when Human Rights Watch made claims of construction workers at Russia 2018 stadia being subject to exploitation and abuse.

FIFA swiftly refuted the allegations but the sense remains that the most significant indicator at this Confederations Cup will be Russia’s performance off the field. Champagne moments from Ronaldo and others on it will be a bonus.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

*



TheFantasyFootball on Facebook

Play

Powered by WordPress Popup