From the 15th – 30th of June, the eyes of the footballing world will be cast on Brazil as they host the now traditional prelude to the World Cup, the Confederations Cup.
This competition usually gives FIFA the chance to oversee the host nation’s ability to coordinate a major footballing event in preparation for when the World Cup arrives in 12 months’ time.
This year will indeed be no different, with Brazil set to be under close scrutiny from Sepp Blatter and co. to see how they deal with a number of potential issues; these include how the stadiums – both renovated and newly-built – will perform, how the transport networks will cope with increased demand (six cities will be hosting matches) and how well prepared and trained are the security services.
For all of these off-field factors, there will be some guaranteed world-class football on show, with the last three World Cup winners in attendance. With eight teams in total involved, some will be looking to put down a marker before next summer’s main event whilst others will just hope to enjoy the experience.
Manager: Luiz Felipe Scolari
FIFA World Ranking: 22
Current 2014 World Cup qualifying status: Qualified (as hosts)
Brazil – winners of the last two Confederations Cups in 2005 and 2009 – will be keen to continue their rich vein of form in this competition, this time on home soil. The squad is brimming with talent, with Neymar, Hulk and Fred primed to lead Brazil’s attack.
The Seleção will have to overcome some hurdles however if they want to retain the trophy. Confined to playing friendly matches in the build-up to next year’s World Cup, the competitive arena of the Confederations Cup – albeit a welcome change for Scolari’s men – may put his side at a disadvantage when they come up against teams who have been battling to qualify for the World Cup for the best part of two years.
Furthermore, the expectations of a passionate home crowd may also weigh heavily on some players. Brazil’s defence will have to provide a strong platform for the more creative players to flourish; if not, the hat-trick of Confederations Cup wins might not come to fruition.
One to watch: Paulinho (24) (Corinthians)
Manager: Cesare Prandelli
FIFA World Ranking: 8
Current 2014 World Cup qualifying status: Top of UEFA Group B by four points
Due to the recent dominance of Spain in major tournaments, Italy qualify for this year’s Confederations Cup as the official European representatives following their runners-up finish in Euro 2012. The Azzurri will be looking to take full advantage of their good fortune and they will feel confident of qualifying from Group A.
A squad blessed with both experience of old and exuberance of youth, Italy will again call on Andrea Pirlo to control the tempo of their play and will hope their wide variety of attacking midfielders and strikers will have the cutting edge in the final third. With one of the best goalkeepers in Gigi Buffon still ruling between the sticks, Italy could prove to be a dark horse in the tournament.
One to watch: Stephan El Shaarawy (20) (AC Milan)
Manager: Alberto Zaccheroni
FIFA World Ranking: 32
Current 2014 World Cup qualifying status: Qualified
Having recently become the first side to officially qualify for the 2014 World Cup aside from the hosts Brazil, Japan will head into the Confederations Cup full of confidence. Their 2011 Asia Cup win has enabled them to compete in this tournament and the opportunity to play some competitive matches on Brazilian soil should prove to be the perfect preparation for what lies ahead in 12 months’ time.
Japan – who regularly field talented players like Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa – do find themselves in the tougher of the two groups but their ability to win games on a regular basis could make them a tough side to beat.
One to watch: Hiroshi Kiyotake (23) (Nuremberg)
Manager: José Manuel de la Torre
FIFA World Ranking: 17
Current 2014 World Cup qualifying status: In the top three of the CONCACAF group
Winners of the gold medal in the 2012 London Olympics, Mexico enter this tournament with a number of those medallists in their squad. Qualifying on the back of their 2011 Gold Cup win, Mexico have a good pedigree in international tournaments and the North American representatives bring a squad that will definitely attract scouts from all of Europe’s top sides.
Manchester United’s Javier Hernández may be the stand-out name in the team, but their array of talent doesn’t stop there and some of Mexico’s players may become more familiar with the European audience in a few years’ time. With their place in next year’s World Cup far from secure, El Tricolor may use this tournament to experiment or express themselves before the nitty gritty of continental qualification returns to their agenda.
One to watch: Hector Herrera (23) (Pachuca)
Manager: Vicente Del Bosque
FIFA World Ranking: 1
Current 2014 World Cup qualifying status: Top of UEFA Group I by one point
The World and European champions will be looking to add to their trophy cabinet over the next two weeks and have brought a squad to Brazil that is more than capable of doing so.
All of the usual big guns are in the travelling party, and players like Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla will be hoping that good Premier League seasons may provide them with the springboard to feature more prominently in the Spanish starting XI. The absence of Xabi Alonso is one that may curtail Spain’s ability to transform defence into attack in one ball.
As the holders of the World Cup, many are tipping Spain to win the Confederations Cup but although they may qualify from their group easily enough, their potential semi-final won’t be easy. However, if one of their strikers puts in string of consistent performances, it will be hard for anyone to stop them.
One to watch: Javi Martínez (24) (Bayern Munich)
Manager: Stephen Keshi
FIFA World Ranking: 31
Current 2014 World Cup qualifying status: Top of CAF Group F by two points
Africa’s representatives in this tournament have already tasted glory in 2013 after winning the African Cup of Nations in February, their third continental title. Captained by the experienced Joseph Yobo, they look favourites to qualify for next year’s World Cup and like Japan, they may use this tournament to try out a few things.
Despite missing Chelsea’s Victor Moses through injury, Stephen Keshi still has a strong squad at his disposal and will be looking to Efe Ambrose and Jon Obi Mikel – both with Champions League experience – to have a strong impact in the tournament for The Super Eagles. Not fancied to progress past the group stage, Nigeria can afford to play expansive football and they may just unsettle the others in the group.
One to watch: Sunday Mba (23) (Enugu Rangers)
Manager: Eddy Etaeta
FIFA World Ranking: 138
Current 2014 World Cup qualifying status: Failed to qualify
Since Australia left the Oceania Football Confederation in 2006, other Pacific Ocean-based teams have had the chance to reach major international competitions. New Zealand were the immediate beneficiaries by qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, and Tahiti will now represent the region on the global stage after winning the 2012 Nations Cup.
The Pacific Islanders are the rank outsiders for the competition (you can get odds of 2500/1 for them to win it), but they will enter the tournament with the belief that they can represent their nation proudly and hopefully score a few goals.
Tahiti only have one player who plays outside of the country and most of their squad are semi-professionals. They may not be taken too seriously in the competition, but no one can deny their right to be in Brazil. June 20 will see them face world champions Spain; a date that has surely been etched in their minds since the draw was made.
One to watch: Steevy Chong Hue (23) (AS Dragon)
Manager: Óscar Tabárez
FIFA World Ranking: 19
Current 2014 World Cup qualifying status: Five points off automatic qualification
Widely regarded as the third best team in South America behind the two powerhouses of Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay qualify for this year’s Confederations Cup thanks to their 2011 Copa América triumph. La Celeste have a squad packed full of household names, from Diego Forlán to Edinson Cavani to Luis Suárez, and will be confident of progressing to the last four.
Uruguay’s recent form may be a cause for concern however. The 2010 World Cup semi-finalists are in danger of missing out on qualifying for the World Cup next summer and have been recently dealing with a resurgence from nations like Chile and Colombia. The fact that the Confederations Cup is in their home continent should provide them with the opportunity to gain some momentum before heading into their remaining CONMEBOL qualifiers.
One to watch: Nicolás Lodeiro (24) (Botafogo)