Soccer '98 Update
With the World Cup '98 draws taking place in France only a week before the 3rd edition of the Intercontinental Cup -- now renamed the Confederations Cup -- the desert football fiesta could not have asked for better timing.
From its rather modest beginnings in October 1992, the tournament has grown in importance and stature, which clearly influenced the decision of soccer's world governing body, FIFA, to make the tournament an officially recognised event.
Global media attention on this tournament was provoked by the presence of four World Cup '98 qualifiers -- current World champions Brazil, South Africa, Mexico and hosts, Saudi Arabia, who were particularly keen on putting on a good show for the Kingdom's soccer-mad populace.
But with Saudi Arabia's opening game against the world champions, there was little hope that fans at Riyadh's imposing King Fahd stadium would witness what would have definitely been the shock of the tournament. After holding Brazil to a goalless draw in the first half, they collapsed to a 3-0 loss. The ensuing game against Coricacaf champions, Mexico saw no improvement, as they suffered a 5-0 defeat.
Partial redemption came in their game against the Oceania champions, Australia, but its 1-0 win over the Socceroos was not enough to earn it a semi-final berth.
The United Arab Emirates, Asia's second representative, did not do particularly well either. They lost 2-0 to Uruguay, the 1995 South American Champions, beat South Africa by a lone goal and got a humiliating 6-1 defeat from the Czech Republic, runners up at the '96 European Championships (they took the place of the European Champions, Germany, who opted out).
Dissatisfaction with the results produced under the leadership of Coach Otto Pfister, had led the President of the Saudi Arabian Federation to make discreet contact with Carlos Alberto Parreira, who managed Brazil to World Cup success in 1994. Unable to resist the mouth watering petro-dollar offer to manage the team, Parreira is expected to have taken up his new post by the time The Middle East goes to press.
With the two Asian teams knocked out, the tournament began to take a more definite shape, which pointed to only one certain conclusion -- that the masterful Brazilians would emerge as champions.
Australia, managed by Englishman Terry Venables, surprisingly held Brazil to a goalless draw in the preliminaries and produced a major upset in the semi-finals by pipping Uruguay 1-0 to earn a place in the finals. But their joy turned to sorrow when they came across Brazil once mote. Playing with a vengeance, the world champions turned the screws on the Australians from the first blast of the whistle and it didn't take too long for the Socceroo's defence to give way.
Goalkeeper Mark Bosnich, standing in between the sticks for Australia, pulled off a string of excellent saves in the first quarter of the game but stopping the combined attacking force of Romario and Ronaldo, arguably the most potent partnership in the international game, proved to be a mission impossible.
At the end of the encounter -- in which Bosnich had the unpleasant task of picking the ball from the net on six occasions -- no one could argue that Australia had been taught a painful football lesson.
Besides picking up the gilded silver trophy -- made by Switzerland's Fritz Jucker and presented to the World Champions by HRH Prince Sultan -- Brazil earned themselves a $1. …