After a pulsating final, staged exactly 345 days before the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, Brazil have emerged as winners of the FIFA Confederations Cup Germany 2005. The reigning world champions laid the foundations for defending their world crown next year with an emphatic 4-1 victory over South American arch-rivals Argentina, leaving no-one in any doubt of the Brazilians' ability to lift the coveted trophy again 12 months from now.
Ronaldinho, Adriano and Co dazzled their opponents at will to prevail in a final of the highest quality, which simultaneously served as revenge for the 3-1 defeat they suffered in Buenos Aires in a FIFA World Cup qualifier three weeks previously.
The critics were in full voice after that defeat, but were silenced just as quickly after an outstanding performance from the world champions. Aside from their success as a team in the eight-nation tournament, a number of individuals showcased their talents on the global stage. Adriano's five goals earned him the accolade of top scorer and the adidas Golden Shoe award. Germany captain Michael Ballack and Australia's John Aloisi took second and third place with four goals apiece.
The 23-year-old Adriano's eye-catching performances were also rewarded with the adidas Golden Ball for the Player of the Tournament, edging out Argentina's Juan Riquelme and Brazilian team-mate Ronaldinho.
And the winner is...
All of Adriano's goals were spectacular, created by magical interplay or the product of fantastic individual endeavour. Alongside Robinho, the Brazilian caused mayhem among opposing defences and ensured that Ronaldo, consigned to watching the tournament at home, was hardly missed.
Hosts delight home public
However, the skilful South Americans were not the only team with a licence to thrill in Germany. Runners-up Argentina, Mexico and Germany also proved box-office hits, with the hosts in particular demonstrating over their five games that they will be a force to be reckoned with at next year's FIFA World Cup. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann has a young and hungry crop of players at his disposal whose refreshing attacking football inspired and enthralled the home fans. Klinsmann's clan came out on top in a thrilling third place play-off with a 4-3 victory over Mexico to leave the host nation licking their collective lips in anticipation of next year's global showpiece.
German star Ballack underlined his leadership credentials yet again with three Anheuser Busch Man of the Match accolades, awarded by the FIFA Technical Study Group. In Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger, the three-time world champions have two precocious young talents who enjoy themselves as much on the pitch as they reportedly do off it, and whose charm and audacity has already won them a place in the fans' hearts.
Other teams at the tournament featured fine exponents of the beautiful game. For Argentina, Luciano Figueroa and notably Riquelme captured the imagination, the latter earning the adidas Silver Ball for his outstanding performances. The formidable duo accounted for seven of the South Americans' ten goals at the tournament. Mexico's Oswaldo Sanchez, twice named Anheuser Busch Man of the Match, pulled out a string of world-class saves and was surely the best goalkeeper of the tournament. Even some members of the teams who departed after the group stage left their mark on the 'Festival of Champions', including Japan's Shunsuke Nakamura and Australian striker Aloisi, whose four goals in three games were even rewarded with a new job: the 29-year-old is set to move from Osasuna to Greek side Panathinaikos.
While Nakamura will definitely be in Germany next year - Japan have already qualified - Aloisi's presence at the tournament is less certain. Australia must emerge victorious against the Solomon Islands in an Oceania decider before entering another two-legged tie against the fifth-placed South American team.
Three teams from the tournament have already booked their tickets for next year's FIFA World Cup. Argentina, Japan and hosts Germany have already qualified, while Brazil, Mexico and Tunisia are on standby for a return to the heart of Europe in a year's time.
By contrast, Greece face an uphill struggle. Last year's UEFA European Championship glory was but a distant memory as coach Otto Rehhagel's men disappointed throughout the FIFA Confederations Cup Germany 2005. The Greeks managed just a single point and failed to score a goal. Their passionate fans looked ready for the FIFA World Cup, but the team will need major surgery if they are to qualify. Greece currently lie third in European Group 2 behind Ukraine and Turkey.
Fans create FIFA World Cup atmosphere
The Greek fans were not alone in transforming the matches into festival occasions. Throughout the tournament, the spectators made the 'Festival of Champions' a true celebration of football, breathing early life into the official FIFA World Cup slogan 'A time to make friends™'. The world champions proved particularly popular, with their first training session in Leverkusen drawing 12,000 fans. Overall, a total of 575,000 paying customers enjoyed the 16 games in Hanover, Cologne, Leipzig, Nuremberg and Frankfurt, venue for the final.
And the fans were rewarded for their commitment. The 56 goals scored is a FIFA Confederations Cup record, one more than the previous best tally from Mexico in 1999. The highest scoring encounters were the hosts' 4-3 opening victory against Australia and their third place play-off win by the same score against Mexico. Germany were the most prolific team of the tournament with 15 goals. Greece versus Mexico was the only game to end in a goalless stalemate.
The two-week tournament produced another interesting statistic: the highest percentage of goals scored from penalties at any FIFA tournament in history. More spot-kicks were awarded and converted at the tournament than ever before, the 16 games featuring eight strikes from the penalty spot.
Participants and fans alike ended up unanimous on one thing. The FIFA Confederations Cup Germany 2005 left them wanting more - more football and more thrills. Roll on the FIFA World Cup.
*Stadiums: *Frankenstadion, Nuremberg
*Top scorers: *5 goals: Adriano
4 goals, 1 assist: Michael Ballack
4 goals: John Aloisi