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U.S. men

As Americans learn Confederations Cup draw, Europe wants event cancelled.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

(Wednesday, February 12, 2003) -- The United States men were drawn into an extremely challenging Group B along with Brazil, Cameroon and Turkey for the eight-nation FIFA Confederations Cup June 18-29 in France.

However, there is strong opposition to the tournament being held at all from the major club teams in Europe, as well as their governing body UEFA, who feel a overcrowded schedule puts makes unreasonable demands on their best players.

"The European clubs are 100 percent not in favor of these competitions," said David Dein, vice-chairman and chief executive for powerful Arsenal in England's Premier League who also opposes the 2004 World Club Championship. "They come at the end of the season when the players need a rest and a holiday. We have a lot of players who are French and Brazilian and. . . they are expected to report in the second week of June for a tournament that runs from June 18 to June 29. Our preseason training begins on July 7 and this would leave them with no time to relax or recover. The players are not wind-up toys. They are highly-tuned and prepared professional athletes and they need rest and recovery at the end of a hard season."

After today's Confederations Cup draw in Paris, the U.S. will play Turkey June 19 in St. Etienne, before going to Lyon to face Brazil June 21 and Cameroon June 23 in preliminary group play.

The top two teams from each group advance to the semifinals on June 26 in Paris and Lyon. The third-place match is set for June 28 in St. Entienne with the final slated June 29 in Paris.

The Confederations Cup field is comprised of the six confederation champions (Cameroon, Colombia, France, Japan, New Zealand and the U.S.), the World Cup champion (Brazil) and Turkey, which was invited as a guest. All but Colombia and New Zealand played in the 2002 World Cup with

In addition to Brazil winning the Cup, Turkey advanced to the semifinals with the Americans going out in the quarterfinals and Japan being eliminated in the Round of 16.

Cameroon went 1-0-2 in Group E, but did not advance to the knockout round.

"We are arguably in the toughest group in the Confederations Cup, and it will be a great challenge for the team," said U.S. head coach Bruce Arena from Jamaica where the U.S. will play the Reggae Boyz tonight. "We are excited about facing two opponents that are relatively unknown to us in Cameroon and Turkey, and, of course, playing against a familiar opponent in Brazil. Overall, it will be a great challenge for us and it will serve as great preparation for World Cup qualifying in 2004."

The U.S. is 1-9 against Brazil, its only victory a memorable 1-0 surprise at the 1998 Gold Cup. The Americans' only meeting with Turkey was a 1-1 draw in Istanbul on September 4, 1991 and they have never played Cameroon.

The U.S. played in two previous Confederations Cup tournaments, finishing third at the inaugural event in 1992 and again in Mexico in 1999. Under Arena in 1999, the Americans finished second in a group that included New Zealand, Brazil and Germany, closing with a commanding 2-0 triumph over Germany, before losing 1-0 to Mexico in overtime in a semifinal at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. The U.S. topped Saudi Arabia 2-0 for third place.

Whether the Confederation Cup even takes place or if it is reduced to a "B" team affair for some participants could be a matter of considerable political maneuvering. UEFA opposes the event, as do most major European clubs, many of whom are threatening to withdraw their players from the competition.

After a two-day meeting of the European Club Forum, which includes 102 teams, at UEFA's headquarters at Nyon, Switzerland, near Geneva, the clubs' representatives said today there was a unanimous view that neither the Confederations Cup nor the World Club Championship should be played because of the crowded international calendar.

"We all feel the same way on this, all clubs from all levels, from the poor to the rich," Dein said. "If it goes ahead, we could be withdrawing players."

Dein was joined at today's press conference by England's Manchester United chief executive Peter Kenyon; Umberto Gandini, organizing director of Italy's A.C. Milan, and UEFA chief executive Gerhard Aigner.

Kenyon, referring to Sepp Blatter, president of world governing body FIFA, said: "We have made Mr. Blatter aware that we are all against these tournaments. We are unanimous on this and we feel now that it has to be taken seriously. We are against them and see no need for them. It should not take place, not this summer, not at all."

A major question is whether the clubs can prevent their players from participating if called by their national teams. Legally, the teams probably can not, but they could pressure their players not to accept the call-ups. That would exacerbate the already difficult club-country dilemma of many of the world's best players.

If the major clubs succeed in preventing their players from participating and the Confederations Cup goes forward, nations such as France and Brazil would be decimated and would likely have to field, in Brazil's case, a team of all domestic players, and in France's situation, a youth side. Turkey would lose most of its better players, as would Cameroon. Colombia, Japan and New Zealand would be less hurt.

The U.S. would probably lose its top two goalkeepers, Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel, and likely several other European-based players who form the core of Arena's planned team. The American squad probably would consist of mostly Major League Soccer players with possibly a couple from lower European divisions.

The 2001 World Club Championship, which would have included MLS's Los Angeles Galaxy, was cancelled for lack of a television contract and enough sponsors.


The 2003 FIFA Confederations Cup schedule in France (with all times Eastern):

Group B

June 19
Turkey vs. United States (St. Etienne), 1 p.m.
Brazil vs. Cameroon (Paris), 3 p.m.

June 21
Cameroon vs. Turkey (Paris), 1 p.m.
Brazil vs. United States (Lyon), 3 p.m.

June 23
Cameroon vs. Turkey (Paris), 1 p.m.
Brazil vs. United States (Lyon), 3 p.m.

Group A

June 18
New Zealand vs. Japan (Paris), 12 noon
France vs. Colombia (Lyon), 3 p.m.

June 20
Colombia vs. New Zealand (Lyon), 1 p.m.
France vs. Japan (St. Etienne), 3 p.m.

June 22
France vs. New Zealand (Paris), 3 p.m.
Japan vs. Colombia (St. Etienne), 3 p.m.

Semifinals

June 26
Group B winner vs. Group A runnerup (Lyon), 3 p.m.
Group A winner vs. Group B runnerup (Paris), 3 p.m.

Third-place

June 28
Semifinal losers (St. Etienne), 12 noon

Championship

June 29
Semifinal winners (Paris), 3 p.m.

Robert Wagman is a SoccerTimes senior correspondent and can be e-mailed at bobwagman@soccertimes.com.

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