x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Confederations Cup is football cure for those summertime blues

Another European football season is in the rear-view mirror so fans can now get excited for the tiny island of Tahiti and the Confederations Cup in Brazil.

Players from the tiny French Polynesian island of Tahiti take part in a training session last week. Tahiti won the 2012 OFC Nations Cup in the Solomon Islands to gain entry into this week’s Confederations Cup. Gregory Boissy / AFP
Players from the tiny French Polynesian island of Tahiti take part in a training session last week. Tahiti won the 2012 OFC Nations Cup in the Solomon Islands to gain entry into this week’s Confederations Cup. Gregory Boissy / AFP

You watched the complete third season of Game of Thrones and were bullied into giving Downton Abby a shot. You have, in a moment of weakness, sheepishly reached for that boxed set of Gossip Girl that has taunted you for the last couple of years.

Roland Garros was fun, and you've convinced yourself that Wimbledon will be a welcome distraction. You've caught some of the cricket and rugby union, and trawled through the sports channels so many times that you somehow found yourself, inexplicably, unforgivably, watching WWE wrestling.

But it is no use. You still miss football.

And not those pointless end-of-season international friendlies in which most players perform like they would rather be on a beach, while others as if they are already on one. Not even the odd meaningful World Cup qualifier.

Like being offered chewing gum when you are craving chocolate cake, these games are no substitute for a good old-fashioned weekly dose of English Premier League, Spanish Primera Liga or Uefa Champions League football.

As far as most football fans are concerned, the season traditionally ends when whoever happens to be captain of Manchester United gets his hands on the Premier League trophy. It should signal the start of the summer, a welcome break from the weekly trauma that the nine-month season delivers to the majority of supporters. But it doesn't. We want more.

If it is an even-numbered year, at least there is a World Cup or a European Championship to look forward to. Odd years, however, leave fans in limbo, like a footballing episode of Lost, trying to make sense of transfer twists and cliffhangers that ultimately come to nothing.

Fifa, of course, have increasingly been filling the calendar with international tournaments in an effort fill this void, not to mention their coffers. From June 21, for the hard-core addicts, there is the Fifa Under 20 World Cup in Turkey.

This, however, remains too obscure for the majority of football fans. Instant gratification is needed.

Which brings us to the Confederations Cup in Brazil, starting Saturday.

Held every four years as a dress rehearsal for the World Cup, in its current format, it brings together the champions of Fifa's six continental titles as well as the world champions and the upcoming World Cup's hosts.

Most fans will probably ignore it, too, as they have in the past. Even those who magically transform into Italians, Argentines and Germans during the World Cup do not usually bother with this tournament. Few people will, off the top of their heads, remember the past two finals.

As expected, there will likely be empty stadiums for some matches, and endless discussions on whether Brazil will be ready to host the World Cup next summer. In fairness, however, this year's Confederations Cup has more going for it than previous editions.

For a start, it is in Brazil, the home of the Beautiful Game, as we will be obliged to call it for the next 12 months.

And with Spain the current world and European champions, the event will see Euro 2012 runners-up Italy joining the hosts, Spain, Uruguay, Japan, Nigeria, Mexico and Tahiti in the two-week event.

What it does not have is Lionel Messi, or Cristiano Ronaldo, leaving the stage clear for someone to make a name, or a bigger name, for himself.

Certainly, there will be no shortage of stars, or intriguing subplots.

Will Neymar, the new Barcelona signing, finally come good on Saturday night in Brasilia as the home nation kick off proceedings against Japan?

And what of the distinctly Latin-flavoured Sunday? In Brazil's group, Italy take on Mexico in Rio, while in Group B, South American champions Uruguay face Spain in Recife in perhaps the biggest of the first-round matches. Spain have ruled international football for the past five years but for once expect all the attention, even from the usually partisan Spanish press, to be on Uruguay's twin striking partnership of Liverpool's Luis Suarez and Napoli's Edinson Cavani, both linked, in recent weeks, with moves to Real Madrid.

Finally, there is Tahiti, a team almost impossible not to cheer on after their heroics in winning the 2012 OFC Nations Cup in the Solomon Islands. On Monday, they face the African champions Nigeria, the match presenting both teams their best chance of getting points on the board before hitting the big boys of Spain and Uruguay. I am pulling for the islanders.

That is just a taste of things to come. Try it. It might not be quite the footballing chocolate cake you are craving, but you could end up enjoying it anyway.

And if all of that is still not to your fancy, fear not. That Premier League fixture list is being released on Wednesday.

Fixtures (UAE time)

Saturday Brazil v Japan, 11pm

Sunday Mexico v Italy, 11pm


Brazil v Mexico, 11pm

Italy v Japan, 2am

June 22

Japan v Mexico, 11pm

Italy v Brazil, 11pm

All games on Al Jazeera Sport

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