Ronaldinho holds the Confederations Cup Trophy
MEXICO CITY: It is hard to think of a more suitable place to celebrate the FIFA Confederations Cup – and specifically what it means to host it – than Mexico City. Just over one year before the next edition of the Festival of Champions kicks off in Russia, historic names from the past and future of the competition gathered on Wednesday at the High Performance Centre of the Mexican Football Federation (FMF) to look ahead at next year’s tournament.


“If the atmosphere in 2017 is anywhere close to what we had at the Estadio Azteca in the final of the 1999 edition, Russia is in for an unforgettable experience,” said Brazil legend Ronaldinho, who was at the losing end of the epic final that handed the hosts the title on 4 August 1999, to the excitement of a record crowd of 110,000 fans.


“That day we lost 4-3, but still it made me hold the Confederations Cup very close to my heart,” Ronaldinho continued. “I’m sure the Russian football fans will be thrilled to host some of the world’s best teams already a year before the World Cup.”


Ronaldinho may have special sentiment for the Confederations Cup – which he won with the Seleção at Germany 2005 – but it is the Mexicans who simply cannot seem to get enough of the competition after that epic triumph.


“The victory at the 1999 FIFA Confederations Cup was a landmark achievement for Mexican football and one that inspired a whole generation of players,” explained FMF President Decio De Maria. “Russia 2017 will mark our seventh participation in the tournament and we certainly have high expectations.”


“Mexico has a strong Confederations Cup tradition, which also serves as a motivational factor for my team,” concurred Juan Carlos Osorio, who took El Tri’s reins in October. ”The tournament will also enable us to get a first taste of what we can expect if we qualify for the World Cup. This is priceless.”


After winning the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2015 and beating rivals USA in the confederation’s play-off, Mexico is one of the five teams to have already secured a spot in next year’s event, alongside Copa América champions Chile, AFC Asian Cup winners Australia, defending FIFA World Cup™ champions Germany and, of course, the hosts.


While listening to the tales about Mexico’s memorable experience hosting the Festival of Champions 17 years ago, the CEO of the Local Organising Committee (LOC) for the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017 and the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ Alexey Sorokin already seemed to have his sights set on 17 June 2017, when the Russians will open the tournament in Saint Petersburg.


“Visiting Estadio Azteca, one of the greatest scenes of the world football, is pure inspiration while we are working hard to deliver four new state-of-the-art stadiums and provide the teams with the best possible conditions in 2017,” Sorokin said. “All the necessary infrastructure is being created and overall preparations are moving in the right direction. Hosting the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017 represents a milestone for Russian football and we can already sense a great deal of anticipation.”


Further down memory lane
When it comes to merging memories of the past in Mexico and the future in Russia, though, another participant of the gathering had an even brighter story to share. On 31 May 1970, Evgeny Lovchev was at the Estadio Azteca playing in the opening match of the FIFA World Cup™ for the Soviet Union against hosts Mexico. Now a prominent football analyst for Russian sports media, Lovchev is counting the days – 402 to be exact – before his country plays host to football’s continental champions.


“It’s certainly very special for me to return to Mexico City almost 46 years after playing that opening game,” said the former defender. “Now I truly look forward to Russia’s first ever participation at the Confederations Cup. Hosting the tournament will be a blessing for our country, and to play against such a strong line-up will bring our team further.”


Looking back at the many Confederations Cup memories in Mexico City has served to increase the excitement towards the next edition of what has become a landmark event in football’s calendar and a perfect hors d’oeuvre for the FIFA World Cup host country.


“We are very satisfied with the current status of preparations for the FIFA Confederations Cup,” FIFA Director of Competitions Colin Smith said. “Of course there is still plenty to do, but the LOC, the Host Cities and the Russian authorities have identified the priorities and are doing an excellent job. Fans, teams and media alike can expect a great tournament next year.”#

Picture: © Getty Images