With the 20th FIFA World Cup due to take place in less than a year, all eyes will be on Brazil over the next two-weeks as they stage the Confederations Cup, which many view as a ‘dry run’ for summers’s big event.
The competition is contested by the champions of the six FIFA confederations (UEFA, CONMEBOL, CONCACAF, CAF, AFC, OFC), along with the World Cup holders and the host nation, meaning in all eight teams compete.
This year’s Confederations Cup will see minnows Tahiti pit their wits against more established soccer nations like Brazil, Spain, Mexico, Uruguay, Nigeria, and Japan.
The tournament will be the first time FIFA have employed goal-line technology at any senior international tournament. German-based manufacturer GoalControl will be used in Brazil and will continue at the World Cup a year later, provided the performance reaches the requirements.
The tournament started life out as the King Fahd Cup (Confederations Winners Cup or Intercontinental Championship) in 1992 and was organized by and held in Saudi Arabia contesting the Saudi national side and some continental champions.
In 1997, FIFA took over the organization of the tournament and named it the FIFA Confederations Cup. Originally the competition took place every two-years, but since 2005 it has been held every four years.
This year’s Confederations Cup, as with prior tournaments, will be held in the country poised to host the following year’s World Cup, which in this is Brazil. The tournament will provide Brazil with an opportunity to hold a ‘dress rehearsal’ ahead of next summer’s main event.
Nevertheless, with some of the world’s biggest players on show, this year’s competition promises to be as competitive and exciting as ever.
Brazil, who qualified as hosts, won the Confederations Cup in 2005 and 2009. The record five time winners of the World Cup are currently ranked at an all-time low of 22 in the FIFA rankings. However, their fall from grace has more to do with the fact they have only played friendly games in the last two years—by virtue of qualifying for the World Cup through being the host nation—and have thus earned fewer points than they would have under normal circumstances through FIFA’s complex ranking system.
But Brazil have struggled for form during the last two years and there is no denying they are not the formidable side they once were. Nevertheless, they are still a top team and will be chomping at the bit to play their first competitive soccer in a long time.
All eyes will be fixed on Neymar who joined Spanish giants Barcelona for a whopping $74m.
The 21-year-old has been dubbed the ‘next Pelé’ and has lived up to the tag by leading Santos to their greatest run since the Pele stopped playing for the club in the 1970s.
Despite scoring 20 goals in 33 appearances for his country, Neymar has yet to shine on the international stage, but with such raw talent at his disposal it really is only a matter of time.
Concacaf’s representative at this year’s Confederations Cup, Mexico qualified for the competition after defeating the U.S. 4-2 in last year’s Gold Cup final. La Verde are competing in the tournament for the fourth time and will be hoping to emulate the Mexico squad of 1999 who won the competition on home soil.
Big things were expected of Mexico after they achieved gold at last summer’s Olympics, but they have struggled during the World Cup qualifiers, winning only one of their six games, and currently sit third in the group on eight points.
Nicknamed Chicharito (little pea), the forward played an integral part in Mexico’s qualification for the competition, scoring seven goals to help Mexico win the 2011 Concacaf Gold Cup.
The Manchester United player may have seen his playing time restricted this season by the arrival of Robin van Persie, but Chicharito did have the best minutes-to-goals ratio of all regular players in the EPL last season—one goal every 97-minutes— and managed to bag an impressive 18 goals in all competitions for the Red Devils.
The Italians are not champions of their confederation but qualified by being runners-up at Euro 2012, as Spain who won last year’s competition are also world champions.
The Italians are making only their second appearance at the Confederations Cup and will be hoping to give a better showing than their last appearance in 2009 when as world champions they crashed out at the group stage.
Love him or hate him, there is no denying the ability and potential of Italian forward Mario Balotelli. The former Manchester City player struggled during his time in the EPL, but has blossomed since moving back to Italy in January with 12 goals in 13 appearances for AC Milan.
However, the Italian is still somewhat of a loose canon who can explode into life at any given time during a game with a moment brilliance or madness.
The 2011 AFC Asian Cup winners may not be one of the biggest draws of the tournament, but are a solid and technical team who should prove to be tough opposition for the rest of the sides in Group A.
The 2001 Confederations Cup runners-up recently became the first team, after hosts Brazil, to qualify for next year’s World Cup and have a fantastic record under coach Alberto Zaccheroni (W23 D9 L5).
The Japanese attacking midfielder has yet to set the EPL alight, but has shown glimpses of the form that persuaded Manchester United to purchase him from Borussia Dortmund last summer.
Known for his vision, technique, movement and deft passing, the 24-year-old also possesses an eye for goal having scored 13 times in 39 appearances for Japan.
Number one ranked team Spain are definitely the team to beat in this year’s competition. La Furia Roja (The Red Fury) are the reigning World Cup and European Champions.
Barcelona’s indifferent form in this season’s Champions League suggests that the core of the Spanish side may be past their best. Nevertheless, Spain are top and unbeaten in their qualifying group for the World Cup thus far and will start the Confederations Cup as favorites.
Spain are blessed with a pool of talented players, but their key performer over the last few years has more often or not been Barcelona midfielder Andrés Iniesta. The 29-year-old, who was named the player of last year’s Euros in Poland and Ukraine, has a knack for playing well and scoring in big games, and along with teammate Xavi will be central to most of Spain’s attacking play.
The 2011 Copa America champions were expected to breeze through World Cup qualification after finishing fourth at the last World Cup. But despite an impressive start to qualification Uruguay have struggled with their form, winning just one of their last seven qualification games, and now look unlikely to finish in an automatic qualifying spot for Brazil 2014.
Nevertheless, the two-time World Champions are not a team to be trifled with and the thought of facing their attacking trio of Luis Suarez, Diego Forlan and Edinson Cavani will no doubt have opposing defenses shaking in their cleats.
The Liverpool forward may seem to always be in the headlines for the wrong reasons, but he has been one of the best strikers in the world this year.
Suarez scored an impressive 30 goals in all competitions for Liverpool last season, and his record for Uruguay is also impressive with 32 goals in 64 games. But the Uruguayan is more than just a goal scorer, blending skill and trickery with passion and tenacity.
The small nation with a population of only 178,000 qualified for the Confederations Cup by beating New Caledonia 1-0 in the 2012 Oceania Nations Cup, to become the first side other than Australia or New Zealand to win the tournament since it began back in 1973.
Tahiti’s squad has only one professional player, Marama Vahirua, 33, a former French Under-21s international who has yet to play a senior international. The rest of the squad is comprised of entirely amateur players including office workers, laborers, school teachers and salesmen.
Steevy Chong Hue
The 23-year-old striker scored the goal that helped Tahiti win their historic Oceania Nations Cup last year and book their place at this year’s Confederations Cup.
Chong Hue, who plays his soccer for Tahiti first division side AS Dragon, has scored an impressive nine goals in only 17 games for Tahiti.
The 2013 African Cup of Nations winners are rumored to have almost not flown to Brazil amidst internal politics regarding to pay. In fact, the Super Eagles are sending a relatively inexperienced squad to Brazil with key names like Victor Moses, Emmanuel Emenike, IK Uche, Kalu Uche and Obafemi Martins all missing.
The Chelsea midfielder is the biggest and most experienced name in the Nigerian squad. The performance of the Super Eagles in Brazil is likely to depend on how well Mikel plays—his performance at 2013 nations Cup played a key role in Nigeria winning the tournament.
Mikel’s leadership and ability to anchor the midfield will be crucial to this fairly inexperienced Super Eagles team.
Group A matches
|16 Jun||Mexico||Italy||Rio de Janeiro|
|22 Jun||Japan||Mexico||Belo Horizonte|
Group B matches
|17 Jun||Tahiti||Nigeria||Belo Horizonte|
|20 Jun||Spain||Tahiti||Rio de Janeiro|