The Confederations Cup: Tournament Training

There has been much said about the Confederations Cup, a tournament that creates mixed feelings for football fans. For some, it is a summer gathering, a FIFA indulgence that holds no real value and provides little more than an annoying distraction. For others, meanwhile, it is a major international tournament with a trophy to be won. As far as Germany is concerned, it has always been something that has got in the way.

Previously known as the King Fahd Cup, the tournament was created in 1992 as little more than an invitational tournament held in Saudi Arabia. In 1997 it was given official status by FIFA, and from that point on it has featured representatives from all of FIFA’s member confederations. Initially a biannual tournament, it has been played every four years since 2005 in the host country of the following year’s FIFA World Cup.

Giving it a miss

From the beginning, Germany was never the keenest participant. The Mannschaft has only played in three tournaments including the current 2017 edition in Russia, but has also given up its place on two occasions. They had earned their spot in the 1997 tournament in Saudi Arabia as European Champions, but the DFB decided to give it up to Euro 96 runners-up Czech Republic. They had also been invited to the 2003 tournament in France as World Cup runners-up, but likewise chose to free the slot for the third-placed side at the 2002 World Cup, Turkey.

Then there are the three Confederations Cup tournaments Germany have played in, all of which can be described as training exercises. In contrast to their tournament opponents, all of the German squads in the eight-team tournament have been a mix of limited experience and fringe players.

1999: Ribbeck’s Journeymen

In 1999, Germany football was arguably at its lowest ebb – meaning that the first team were not that great to start with. In picking a second-string squad consisting of a mix of youngsters and journeymen, it was little more than a recipe for disaster. The squad contained no fewer than six uncapped players, and of the remainder only four had more than a dozen international appearances. At the other end of the scale, the captain was the thirty-eight year old Lothar Matthäus, who had collected more caps than the rest of the squad combined.

In the UK, there is a popular quiz show called Pointless – in Germany, the same show is called Null Gewinnt – where contestants have to provide correct but obscure answers to general knowledge questions, in order to score as few points as possible. If faced with having to name players who have stepped out in the Nationaltrikot, the 1999 Confederations Cup squad would be a good place to start.

Heiko Gerber, Ronald Maul, Horst Heldt, Mustafa Doğan. Then, those who did manage to get a few more caps without ever being memorable. Paolo Rink, Michael Preetz, Olaf Marschall.

The 1999 Confederations Cup lineup against New Zealand. Little more than a pub squad in a pub squad Trikot

Plenty of pointless answers there.

Needless to say, the tournament was one weak win short of a catastrophe. After beating a even poorer New Zealand team 2-0 in their opening match, Erich Ribbeck’s team held on until half time against Brazil before conceding four second half goals, and then rounded things off with an insipid 2-0 defeat against the United States.

Not much to talk about, and plenty to forget. Even the Nationaltrikot was rubbish.

2005: Rising Stars

With the 2005 tournament being played on home soil in front of expectant home support, there was a little more effort in picking a more balanced squad. This time there was a mix of experience and youth, with the old hands such as Oliver Kahn, Michael Ballack, Bernd Schneider and Torsten Frings supplemented by a battery of up and coming talents.

While at least every player had earned at least one cap before the start of the tournament, there were a few who quickly disappeared off the national selection radar. When thinking for former German internationals, the likes of Fabian Ernst, Christian Schulz, Thomas Brdarić and Marco Engelhardt will not be the first to come to mind.

The result, however, was far more successful than in 1999 as Germany went on to claim third place, beating Mexico 4-3 in an extra-time thriller after a just as exciting 3-2 semi-final defeat against eventual champions Brazil.

Better team, better kit. The team before the 2005 Confed Cup semi-final against Brazil

The tournament would mark the emergence of three of the Mannschaft’s biggest future stars and eventual cap centurions, Lukas Podolski, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Per Mertesacker. Others such as Arne Friedrich and Thomas Hitzlsperger would go on to make over fifty international appearances. By the same token, a number of promising players would either remain on the fringe or disappear into the crowd, such as Robert Huth, Andreas Hinkel, Patrick Owomoyela and Mike Hanke.

Then there were those whose future would be shaped by circumstance. Striker Kevin Kurányi would go on to collect fifty-two caps, but what would almost surely have been a long and fruitful career was ended by his own indiscipline and bloated sense of self-importance. In stark contrast, the career of Sebastian Deisler, touted by many as the most talented German player for a generation, was ended by a long and painful spate of injuries.

The Current Crop

The German squad for the 2017 Confederations Cup bears the same selection hallmark. A small smattering of experienced campaigners – relatively speaking – and a raft of youngsters. Unlike 1999 however, there is genuine talent in the squad and no obvious journeymen. Each and every one of these players will be looking to compete for a slot at next year’s World Cup finals.

The most capped players before the tournament started were skipper Julian Draxler and left-back Jonas Hector with thirty and twenty-nine caps respectively, while actual tournament experience is limited. While Hector played all of Germany’s six matches at Euro 2016 and Draxler started four times and was subbed on once (adding to one cap off the bench against Brazil in 2014), the only other players who have played at top tournament level are Shkodran Mustafi (three caps at the 2014 World Cup and two at Euro 2016), Joshua Kimmich (four at Euro 2016) and Emre Can (one cap off the bench at Euro 2016).

Inexperienced, but with talent in abundance. The 2017 Confed Cup lineup against Australia

Besides Draxler, there is only one World Cup winner in the squad – Matthias Ginter, who has still to play a major tournament match.

The Experience Deficit

This young Mannschaft’s lack of experience contrasts strongly with some of their opponents. Three of the Australian squad have over fifty caps, with a further nine with twenty or more. Cameroon’s squad is somewhat lighter, but is still established enough with two half-centurions and another four player with twenty or more caps.

The Chilean squad, on the other hand, is one that has its eyes on winning the tournament rather than preparing for next year’s World Cup. All of the big names are there including the legionnaires from the European leagues, and the squad contains no fewer than four centurions. There are a further seven players with fifty caps or more, and three more with over thirty. There are no uncapped players in what is a talented and well-tested squad.

While Chile are clearly looking at throwing everything into the campaign, the more gentle German approach can be best summed up by the number of players in the squad itself – twenty-two as opposed to the allowed twenty-three. Winger Leroy Sané was initially selected, but following his withdrawal to have a nose operation, no replacement was named.

The Confederations Cup: Tournament Training

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