PARIS: The 2003 Confederations Cup represents the first real test for hosts France to prove to the world that they have recovered from their pitiful showing at last year’s World Cup.
A first round exit in Asia without a single goal scored was nothing short of a humiliating disaster for the 1998 champions, resulting in a considered clear out of the old guard by new coach Jacques Santini on the return home.
Under Santini’s guidance France have put together a string of decent results in their qualifying group for Euro 2004 yet admittedly against low key opponents.
Coming up against the likes of World Cup winners Brazil, Turkey and the United States will be a different ball game altogether, a task made even more difficult without their midfield general Zinedine Zidane.
Santini, speaking from France’s base camp at Clairefontaine, said: “With ’Zizou’ missing it’ll give others the chance of a game – it’s up to them to seize the opportunity.”
“This Cup is being held between two stages of qualification (for Euro 2004), but it’s an important objective for ’Les Bleus’,” added the former Lyon coach.
“Because of the overloaded fixture list there are no more tournaments – as a result it’s going to be useful for us.”
France, who beat South Korea in the 2001 final, are drawn in Group A against Japan, Colombia and outsiders New Zealand.
Group B is headed by a Brazil squad virtually unrecognisable from the one that triumphed over Germany in the World Cup last year.
For coach Carlos Alberto Parreira it represents a chance to unleash some fresh talent on to the international stage as he makes do without World Footballer of the Year Ronaldo who, like teammate Roberto Carlos, is being held on to by his club Real Madrid.
AC Milan midfielder Rivaldo is also an absentee, leaving Perreira to call up players based in Brazil.
One star name he can rely on is Ronaldinho, who will surely be as busy off the pitch as on as the Paris Saint Germain striker seeks to find a new home for next season.
Brazil have as company in Group B Turkey, whom they beat in the World Cup semi-finals, Cameroon, and the United States, one of the surprise packages in Asia making it through to the quarter-finals.
US coach Bruce Arena believes his team’s World Cup showing has left an important legacy.
“For sure we’ve grown in confidence, we’ve got a more positive approach,” he said.
“We’re confident in our capacity to get a good result up against any team,” added the coach, who has called up 10 of his World Cup team including Landon Donovan and Earnie Stewart.
“We have selected a group of players that combines experience and youth,” said Arena.
“For many of these players, it will be their first experience in a competition of this calibre, so the games can only benefit our group as we progress towards World Cup qualifying in 2004.”
Japan’s Brazilian coach Zico has had to contend with a wave of setbacks as he attempts to develop his team towards the 2006 World Cup.
Zico, who took over from Philippe Troussier last July, has seen four friendlies called off because of either SARS or the war in Iraq.
The Brazilian legend’s problems were compounded with the defection through injury of Feyenoord midfielder Shinji Ono and Masashi Nakayama but he is hoping his new secret weapon will cause trouble – Brazilian-born star Alex Santos who plays at left wing-back.
Zico’s record since taking over reads one win against South Korea, two defeats and two draws.
Japan FA president Saburo Kawabuchi said: “For Japan, the Confederations Cup is a process of finding ideal tactics.
“We don’t set any quotas for Zico. His quota is to qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.”
For Cameroon, the event, which is being staged at the Stade de France in Paris, Lyon and St Etienne delivers up a chance to shrug off a poor World Cup campaign while New Zealand will be hoping to improve on their last appearance in the competition in 1999 when they lost all their three matches.
South American champions Colombia are France’s first opposition in Lyon on Wednesday. – AFP