Six of the best major international tournaments in odd years

Date published: Wednesday 18th March 2020 8:47 - Matthew Stead

With the news that Euro 2020 has become Euro 2021, we figured it might be useful to look at some of the best major international tournaments held in odd-numbered years.


2015 Asian Cup
There is a certain beauty about a tournament in which each team loses at least once, three of four unbeaten group winners are immediately beaten in the next stage and four of seven knock-out games go to at least extra-time. Rangers legend Paul Le Guen, Manchester United favourite Carlos Queiroz and Portsmouth icon Alain Perrin, managers of Oman, Iran and China respectively, added a quirky flavour to this classic of the genre, an Asian Cup for the ages.

The debuting Palestine scored their first tournament goal, albeit in a 5-1 defeat to a Jordan side managed by Ray Wilkins. Massimo Luongo was named player of the tournament, with some virtuoso Australia displays helping him earn a place on that year’s 59-man Ballon d’Or longlist. And the record for most games without a draw at a major international tournament was shattered: the 26-match streak far surpassed the previous mark of 18 set at the 1930 World Cup.

A 3-3 quarter-final draw between Iran and Iraq was a particular highlight, the latter winning 7-6 on penalties after a game that finished 1-1 in normal time saw four goals in the subsequent half-hour. The dominant South Korea ended a fairytale run in the semi-finals, with Heung-min Son and friends having not conceded on their way to the final.

Hosts Australia would change all that, beating them 2-1 after James Troisi scored an extra-time winner forced by Son’s equaliser in second-half stoppage-time. Aside from a 2001 Second Division title, a 2013 MLS Supporter’s Shield and the 2016 FFA Cup, it was the only major honour of Tim Cahill’s entire career.


2007 Gold Cup
Once described by Ruby Walsh as “the greatest horse I’ve ever ridden”, Kauto Star claimed the first of two Gold Cups in 2007, the pre-race favourite holding off the challenge of Tony McCoy’s Exotic Dancer. Monkey Tennis.

As for that year’s CONCACAF offering, the United States managed to retain the crown for the first time in their history. Bob Bradley watched on as Landon Donovan converted four PKs in successive games from the last group game to the pulsating final against Mexico.

That game was won by what the New York Times described as ‘a murderous volley’ from Benny Feilhaber, whose punishment was to join Derby. The USA won all three of their knockout games 2-1 while fellow finalists Mexico feasted on three 1-0 victories.

Guadeloupe captured the imagination of a tournament in which there was no standout side. Making their competition debut, they navigated the group stage as the second-best of three third-placed teams, beating Honduras in the quarters before falling to Mexico.

The New York Times hailed ‘an exciting and technically proficient’ final ‘that raised the bar’ at the culmination of an absorbing two-and-a-half weeks. The USA had earned a place at the 2009 Confederations Cup – a surprisingly entertaining fortnight in itself.


2001 Copa América
There are few equals in terms of proper international tournament turmoil and confusion. The 2001 Copa América makes Euro 2021 look positively organised and serene in comparison.

Its best team refused to even compete. Argentina were ranked third in the world and led the CONMEBOL section of World Cup qualifying at a canter. Marcelo Bielsa intended to follow the suit of most other countries by sending a weakened squad to Colombia before pulling out altogether on July 10, a day before the opening game.

The tournament itself had actually been cancelled on July 1, with reported death threats being made against Hernan Crespo, German Burgos and, most brave of all, Diego Simeone, before being surprisingly reinstated five days later. The host nation, in the perennial grip of civil war, sought to dismiss security concerns but a series of bombings and the June kidnapping of Colombian Football Federation vice-president Hernan Mejia Campuzano hardly helped.

Argentina weren’t even the first team to pull out; Canada withdrew after failing to persuade their players to return from the holidays they had embarked on when it seemed as though their summers had been freed up. Costa Rica took their place, while Honduras arrived in Colombia to replace La Albiceleste literal hours before their first match.

It added to the frantic and unpredictable nature of an engrossing tournament which saw both late, unprepared guest entrants go far. Costa Rica reached the quarter-finals while Honduras went one better, beating Brazil en-route to the semis before falling to eventual champions Colombia.

“I, Big Phil, will go down in history as the Brazil coach who lost to Honduras,” said Luiz Felipe Scolari of an embarrassing, chastening defeat. They would be crowned world champions less than a year later.

The hosts lifted their first and only Copa America, not conceding a single goal throughout. Paulo Wanchope was the second top goalscorer. It remains one of just three South American championships with neither Argentina nor Brazil in the final four. Colombia’s finest moment was an unexpected continental success.


1999 Confederations Cup
While choosing your preferred Confederations Cup is like picking your favourite child in that they’re all largely forgettable, the 1999 iteration was a joy to behold. Brazil were holders after a double hat-trick from Ronaldo and Romario disposed of Australia in 1997, and they were heavy favourites once again.

Armed with a teenage Ronaldinho, the evergreen Zé Roberto and Flavio Conceicao, a matter of months removed from his switch to Real Madrid, the Seleção were a fearsome prospect. A 4-0 humbling of Germany in a faultless group stage, followed by the 8-2 demolition of accidental semi-finalists Saudi Arabia, underlined that.

The other route to the final was laden with many more obstacles. Mexico drew with winless Egypt and edged past Bolivia to advance to a meeting with the United States, settled by Cuauhtémoc Blanco’s scrappy golden goal in the 97th minute.

They were given little hope in the final against Brazil; Ronaldinho was that damn good. But the 110,000 fans crammed into the Estadio Azteca were rewarded with a thrilling final. Mexico took an early two-goal lead, saw it wiped out within four minutes, then had the resolve and nerve to go 4-2 up just after the hour mark. Try as Zé Roberto might, his strike was a mere consolation as Jorge Campos and his colourful kits held on for glory.


1997 Tournoi de France
Though not on the same level of importance as the other tournaments on this list, an exception must be made for the 1997 Tournoi de France. Football made the short journey home at the end of a 1998 World Cup prelude that was as enjoyable as it was largely meaningless.

The squads alone suggested it was more than a casual kickabout. Cafu, Ronaldo, Romario, Zinedine Zidane, Didier Deschamps, Patrick Vieira, Paolo Maldini, Gianfranco Zola, Alessandro Del Piero, David Beckham, Alan Shearer and John Scales all descended on France for eight days of footballing debauchery.

Consisting of just six games in a single round-robin group stage, we got a physics-bending Roberto Carlos free-kick, a scorcher from Youri Djorkaeff against Italy and, among other things, the full international debut of Paul Scholes.

It was also a helpful indicator of what to expect a year later: Beckham was suspended for the final game due to a couple of petulant bookings, Glenn Hoddle publicly warned Paul Gascoigne over a lack of focus, England started well and faded, Italy held their own but to no avail, and Brazil were excellent. France accepted their notes for improvement, revised and were better for it come ’98.

Then there was Shearer, stony-faced as he held the glass football trophy aloft, unaware it would be the last honour of his career. It looks increasingly like a competition frozen in time, but it was bloody great fun.


1987 Copa América
While some international tournaments boast a catalogue of moments and memories, others are enshrined on the basis of one particular match. Euro 2004 belonged to Wayne Rooney and that dramatic quarter-final between Portugal and England. In 1984, it was the former being pipped by Michel Platini’s France in the semis. The 2014 World Cup is often viewed through the prism of Germany’s ruthless destruction of the hosts in the final four.

Brazil were no strangers to such humiliations. They started the 1987 Copa América with a routine 5-0 thrashing of Venezuela, before themselves succumbing to Chile in a remarkable 4-0 loss.

And they were not the only side to disappoint. World champions Argentina, powered by Diego Maradona and hosting their first Copa in almost two decades, would fall at the penultimate hurdle to Uruguay on their national independence day, no less.

Chile met La Celeste in the final after overcoming Carlos Valderrama’s Colombia in extra-time. The result was a gloriously contemptuous showcase in which Uruguay’s roughhousing seemed to have met its match. Chile had Eduardo Gómez sent off in the 14th minute, only for Enzo Francescoli’s dismissal to level matters before the half-hour mark. Both teams had a further player shown red cards later on but Uruguay, automatic semi-finalists as holders, proved too strong in defence as they followed up the 1-0 win over Argentina with as narrow a victory in the final.

Matt Stead


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