Confederations Cup Group Review and Semi-final Preview
The Group stage of the Confederations Cup has come to an end and as usual it is the big boys who will contest the semi-finals, with Brazil facing Uruguay on Wednesday and Spain facing Italy on Thursday.
Japan, Nigeria, Mexico and Tahiti have all fallen at the first hurdle, but they all gave good accounts of themselves and will be hoping to build upon their performances during the tournament.
Hosts Brazil topped Group A with three wins from three, though they were far from comfortable and had to survive a few rough patches along the way. However, their greater guile and skill upfront tipped the results in their favor, and the record five time World Cup winners will now be confident heading into Wednesday’s semi-final clash with Uruguay.
Euro 2012 runners-up Italy finished second in Group A with two wins and one loss. Like Brazil, Italy survived some scares during the group phase—winning twice by a single goal scored late on—but showed plenty of class and tenacity, and will now play Spain in the semis in a repeat of last summer’s Euro 2012 final.
Mexico and Japan are both out of the tournament after finishing third and fourth respectively. Mexico finished third with a one win and two losses, while Japan finished bottom of the group with zero points, however, both sides played exciting attacking soccer and with a bit more luck would have done better points wise.
Japan have already qualified for next year’s World Cup, while Mexico despite their indifferent form in qualification should also make it. If both sides can maintain the good form they have shown in the Confederations Cup they could upset one or two of the bigger boys in Brazil next year.
Spain made it to successive Confederations Cup semi-finals by topping Group B with three wins. The Reigning World and European champions dominated all their games with their trademark tiki-taka soccer and remain the team to beat in this year’s competition.
Two-time World Cup winners Uruguay finished second in the group with two wins and one loss. La Celeste (The Sky Blues) have yet to spark into life, but their attacking trio of Cavani, Forlan and Suarez helped them edge past Nigeria and will definitely cause a problem or two for Brazil in the semis.
Nigeria arrived in Brazil with a young and inexperienced squad amid political problems between senior players and the Nigeria FA over pay. The Super Eagles were only narrowly beaten by Uruguay 2-1 thanks to a rasping finish from Diego Forlan and despite losing 3-0 to Spain, the young side gave the World Champions a run for their money and could have gotten something from the game if for better finishing. Nevertheless, the young side can be proud of their performances and will leave the tournament with a wealth of experience.
Minnows Tahiti unsurprisingly finished bottom of the group with comprehensive losses. The step up in class was always going to be difficult for the side that has only one professional player in their squad. But the Toa Aito (Iron Warriors) have won plenty of fans for their efforts in Brazil and will leave the competition with positive memories—like debutant Gilbert Meriel’s penalty save against Uruguay’s Scotti, and Jonathan Tehau’s goal, which was the first the South Pacific islanders have ever scored in a major competition.
Brazil vs. Uruguay
The first semi-final sees soccer reignite one of its oldest rivalries when hosts Brazil take on reigning Copa America champions Uruguay on Wednesday. Uruguay caused one of the biggest upsets in soccer history when they defeated heavy favorites Brazil 2-1 to win the 1950 World Cup in Brazil—a defeat that caused Brazil to change their jersey from a white shirt with a blue neckline and white shorts to a yellow shirt with a green neckline and blue shorts with plain white socks, as they considered the old uniform a jinx.
Since then Brazil has gone on to dominate international soccer, winning a record five World Cups, while Uruguay endured many years in the wilderness. That was until 2010, when La Celeste (the Sky Blues) restored some well overdue pride by making it to the World Cup semi-finals in South Africa and winning the Copa America a year later.
Brazil has recently slipped to an all-time low ranking of 22nd , but the young side are reinvigorated after topping their group with a 100% record and will be confident of making it to their fifth Confederations Cup final.
Uruguay are still not playing well and have yet to light up the tournament, but their forward line of Cavani, Forlan, and Suarez is perhaps the deadliest front trio in international soccer, so you can never rule them out.
The 21-year-old has been Brazil’s and the tournament’s brightest start thus far, scoring three goals and assisting one. Blessed with pace, technique and outlandish trickery, Neymar will be the player Uruguay has to watch.
This Uruguay side is blessed with fantastic forwards, but Suarez has been their standout performer so far in the Confederations Cup with three goals, including a beautiful free-kick against Spain. The 26-year-old has a fantastic scoring record for Uruguay, scoring 35 times in 67 appearances. Blessed with an extraordinary ability to wriggle past defenders in tight spaces, Suarez is also a hard working striker and is sure to not allow the Brazil backline a moments rest during Wednesday’s clash.
Spain vs. Italy
Thursday’s semi-final will see Spain and Italy clash horns for the first time since last summer’s Euro 2012 final. Spain ran out comfortable winners in that game thrashing Italy 4-0, but the game was actually a lot closer than the score-line suggested, with the Italians unusually sloppy in defense for a couple of the goals.
Spain sailed through their group comfortably winning all three of their games, though Nigeria did cause them problems and should have scored at least a couple of goals. The reigning World and European champions are in the Confederations Cup semis for the second time and will be hoping to improve on their last appearance when they lost 2-0 to the U.S. in 2009.
Italy finished runners-up in their group behind hosts Brazil, and will be looking to avenge last summer’s thrashing by Spain. However, they will have to do without star striker Mario Balotelli, who has flown back to Italy after injuring his thigh. Balotelli’s absence will be a bitter blow for Italy who have scored the least goals of all the team remaining.
The Azzurri have not been at their best so far in the competition, but they
showed in their comeback against Japan and even in their defeat to Brazil, that they are a resilient side full of spirit who will play until the last minute.
Fernando Torres may have grabbed the headlines with his goal scoring exploits, but the Barcelona midfielder has been quietly pulling the strings during Spain’s games. Iniesta killed Italy in last summer’s final with his sublime vision and passing, and they will have to nullify his impact if they want a chance of making it to the final.
The veteran midfielder was one of Italy’s key performers at last summer’s Euros and will be integral to Italy’s chances of beating Spain on Thursday. The Juventus player showed he still has what it takes to play at the top by scoring a stunning free-kick against Mexico in the group stages. Pirlo sets the rhythm of Italy’s play and if he can get a foothold on the game Italy will have a good chance of avenging last year’s defeat to Spain.