Saint Petersburg: In an outer corner of the Krestovsky island, once a favorite of mini-Tzars and now a steady urbanized parkland with top-end housing projects and high-prestige homes with splendid views of the Gulf of Finland, Russia will play New Zealand in the opening match of the 2017 Confederations Cup at Saint Peterburg’s monumental and imposing Zenit Arena.
Neatly nestled on the western edge of the island, the venue is a low lying state-of-the-art UFO, with all the needs and requirements for a modern day spectacle of footballing gladiators. It’s perhaps a fitting modern monstrosity — beautiful in its gigantism, but vulgar in its sanitized corporatism — to supersede a lengthy history of sports in the west of the city.
In the 19th century prince Alexander Mikhailovich Belosselsky-Belozersky launched the ‘first’ Russian sports events on the island, with a Lawn Tennis Club, which nurtured the first Russian tennis champion, George Vassilievich Bray. Rowing, polo and sailing were other sports to feature in Krestovsky before the Russian revolution in 1917.
Yet today stadium’s, a palace of the global game, has a troubled reputation — it’s a ‘Klondike for St Petersburg officials,’ or a ‘monument of the rampant corruption’ at the highest levels of Russian officialdom — with bloated bills, missed deadlines and a poor pitch. Construction began in 2007, but the arena was criticized for an overrun budget of 41 billion rubles (£567 million).
It is but a part of a trademark preparatory pattern that has overshadowed the build-up to the ‘Tournament of Champions’ in Russia with costs cuts, disputes over broadcasting fees, fears over violence, ticketing concerns and complaints about workers’ rights.
But not even all these problems can obfuscate that the Confederations Cup is an unloved tournament, an outcast among major football championships. Indeed, this edition — replete with the forward prancing Cristiano Ronaldo, the zealous Alexis Sanchez and the young Joachim Low brigade — may well be the last incarnation of the tournament with the 2021 Confederations Cup in doubt over climate and calendar challenges in Qatar. In November 2025, a new six-team playoff will decide the last two remaining spots at the 48-team USA-bound World Cup. FIFA president Gianni Infantino has also mooted an expansion of the Club World Cup, with a possible slot in June 2025.
The Confederations Cup may also be a financial liability. In 2013, Brazil cost FIFA $70 million in expenses, but with the broadcasting and sponsorship rights bundled into World Cup deals, its commercial value remains murky.
FIFA secretary-general Fatma Samoura said that the fate of the Confederations Cup has not been decided yet in Zurich’s corridors of power, but perhaps the tournament has never fully found its place in footballing history, as a poor man’s version of the World Cup, a procession of glorified friendlies that merely serves as an organisational warmup. In the past though, the tournament has offered some moments of illumination with Ronaldinho demonstrating his potential in 1999 and Brazil ending Spain’s dominance in 2013. That same year the Tahitian semipros showed valiance and bravery during their mismatches.
In Russia, defending world champions Germany have left home their first team players, but the pool of talent at the disposal of coach Low is still very impressive with Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Julian Draxler and Liverpool midfielder Emre Can in the squad. "If there was no Confed Cup in 2021, I wouldn’t be unhappy," said the German coach said last month when he announced his squad for the tournament, containing only three of his 2014 World Cup winners. "I don’t think those involved would be unhappy either.”
Germany will still be favorites to lift the Confederations Cup, together with European champions Portugal and the kings of South America Chile, at the Krestovky Stadium on 2 July. They’d honor a longstanding tradition of sporting excellence on the island, but perhaps Low is not all too keen on it, not even if this were to be the last Confederations Cup, because the tournament’s winner has never never gone on to win the next World Cup.
Published Date: Jun 17, 2017 12:35 PM | Updated Date: Jun 17, 2017 12:35 PM