June 13, 2013 by jstevenson0804
We’re back! It’s been a few months but now we’re back with more high quality analysis and reports. To kick us off we’re going to provide detailed coverage of the Confederations Cup and this edition will whet the appetite for the next few weeks of football with an in-depth preview of the competition.
For those of you out there not quite certain of what the Confederations Cup is, let me explain. Just as the World Cup is held every four years, so is the Confederations Cup and it is contested by the six FIFA confederation champions as well as the World Cup champions and the hosts. In short, this competition is ultimately the same as the Club World Cup as we attempt to look for the world’s best team. To start with there are two groups of four with the top two progressing to the semi-finals and the winners then on to the final.
Usually the competition goes fairly unnoticed but this year’s competition is important not just for the winners but the hosts especially. Brazil, as two-time defending champions, will be using the Cup as a warm-up to the much-anticipated World Cup next year. The second match of the tournament will give us our first glimpse of the new Maracana stadium in Rio, although it should be said it is not quite the finished article just yet.
So now we’ve covered the competition, let’s meet the teams…
Hosting the competition will give Brazil and FIFA a good opportunity to showcase what we can all expect at next year’s World Cup but also a chance to ensure that developments are proceeding as expected.
Squad-wise, many of you will be familiar with the big names, especially after the recent friendly with England. Although this Brazil team does not quite have the same flair of previous generations there is still plenty of talent to keep your eyes on. At the back there is a wealth of experience, with a considerable amount of talent thrown in, with the likes of Julio Cesar, Thiago Silva (captain), Dani Alves and Bayern’s Dante. Up the other end of the field there are plenty of mouth-watering names too with the likes of Hulk, Oscar and Lucas all looking to impress on the big stage.
However, all eyes will be on Neymar. Whether you love him or hate him, he does have talent. Sceptics have been quick to write him off but the Confederations Cup will give him the perfect opportunity to display his skills in front of a hugely supportive home crowd.
Another name to look out for is Bernard, the diminutive playmaker from Athletico Mineiro. To most English fans his name will be a mystery but he has been a dominant force in Brazil’s Serie A and has recently been linked with both Tottenham and, more significantly, Borussia Dortmund, as a possible replacement for Mario Gotze. Given the opportunity here, he may well be able to help seal a move to Europe and we may be seeing a lot more of this young man over the next season or so.
Representing the AFC Japan have already qualified for the World Cup and will be looking to suitably warm up ahead of next year’s event. Most of the squad will be unfamiliar to you, but there are plenty of big names in there to watch out for. Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa and CSKA Moscow’s Keisuke Honda will be the key players for AFC champions. Both players are capable of scoring and assisting and any hopes will likely rest on these sturdy shoulders.
Elsewhere there is a wealth of Bundesliga talent looking to demonstrate their ability in the international arena. Makoto Hasebe of Wolfsburg will captain the side but the most impressive Bundesliga representative will be that of Shinji Okazaki of Stuttgart who will look to add to his impressive goal tally of 33. Added to this the Nurnberg playmaker Hiroshi Kiyotake and you have a considerable amount of talent to look out for.
However, my player to watch is Mike Havenaar. The un-Japanese sounding striker has had a great season for Vitesse in the Eredivisie and should provide a decent goal threat for the Japanese.
Winners of the 2011 Gold Cup and representing the CONCACAF will be Mexico. As with Japan, Mexico does not have too many real standout players but does have a number of experienced campaigners to provide some strong performances. Most of the squad is based in Mexico but the star players come from Europe. Goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, of Ajaccio, has been linked with Liverpool in recent months. Andres Guardado of Valencia will offer plenty of threat from out wide but it is Manchester United’s ‘little pea’ that will be the most familiar name on the team sheet. Javier Hernandez has a terrific strike rate for club and country and will be the main threat in front of goal.
Two young stars to keep an eye on though are midfielder Hector Herrera, who has himself been linked with United in the past and Porto-bound centre-back Diego Reyes. Herrera is a lively character in the centre of midfield and should provide some welcome energy to the team, as he looks to impress potential suitors. Reyes, only 20 years old, is an even more exciting prospect with great skills and movement for such a giant and although this tournament may be too early for him, he will no doubt gain some invaluable experience in Portugal next season so remember the name Diego Reyes…
Not technically a confederation champion but as runners up to Spain in Euro 2012 they qualify due to Spain being world champions too. Although the squad has lost many former stars in recent years, Juventus’ trio of Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Pirlo are still as important and exceptional as ever. All three have once again enjoyed title success in another runaway Serie A campaign. Backed up by the likes of Daniele De Rossi and Claudio Marchisio, they have a team capable of winning the tournament. Of more interest, though, will be the dynamic Mario Balotelli, who has thoroughly enjoyed his return to Italy. After a tumultuous time in Manchester he sparked into life with AC Milan with 12 goals in 13 appearances.
However, Italy is not just a team of older campaigners and certainly has some top youngsters coming through. Alongside Balotelli up front at club level stands The Pharaoh, Stephen El Shaarawy. Only 20, this season proved to be his breakthrough season as he firstly shouldered the burden of replacing Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the line-up before striking up a dynamic partnership with Balotelli. Given the chance he could notch a few goals during the competition taking the limelight away from Super Mario.
Another unfamiliar name to most will be that of defender Mattia De Sciglio. Again just 20 but an integral part of the Rossoneri line-up this season. Equally capable on the right and the left he ended the season as first choice and with the number 2 shirt once worn by Cafu. He has some serious talent and will, no doubt, in a few years be an ever-present in the Italian line-up.
World and European champions Spain will be the favourites heading into the tournament, although perhaps not quite as invincible as often regarded. In a similar fashion to Italy the Spaniards boast a mix of elder statesmen providing the real drive of the team in the shape of Casillas, Xavi and Iniesta, but also some younger blood. Most of the squad should be familiar to you all by now but there may be a few interesting changes to the line-up with the likes of Juan Mata and David Silva intruding on the established order. Also hoping to join in will be Manchester City’s new signing Jesus Navas, so keep an eye out for him.
The main man to watch, though, is Roberto Soldado. No spring chicken at 28 he may not seem an obvious choice but his goal-scoring exploits at club level have not gone unnoticed. With former stalwarts David Villa and Fernando Torres struggling for form and fitness, this could be Soldado’s last opportunity to make a real claim to be Spain’s starting striker. Having scored 24 goals in La Liga this season he will certainly be in a confident mood and may well solve Spain’s only real problem of finding the net on multiple occasions.
2011 Copa America winners Uruguay will be South America’s second representative at the tournament, a sign that both Uruguayan and South American football is on the up. In recent years Uruguay has re-emerged as a top footballing nation thanks to the exploits of some very dynamic strikers, including former United star Diego Forlan. In spite of some bad form in the World Cup qualifying they will hope to be able to turn that around and make a good challenge here.
Napoli’s Edinson Cavani and Liverpool’s Luis Suarez will be the key players and both offer plenty of goals and drama. The former has been a consistent scorer throughout his Serie A career and now looks set to be moving on to face new challenges, possibly at Chelsea or Manchester City. Luis Suarez has been similarly prosperous in front of goal but on-field antics have seen his exploits marred by rash moments. His mentality can be questioned, but his footballing skills cannot and together with Cavani they provide a real threat.
As well as these two the other key player to watch is Southampton’s Gaston Ramirez. Having endured a season hampered by injury the tricky playmaker will be looking to demonstrate his ability once more and build up some proper fitness ahead of next season. For many, including myself, it was a shock to see such a good prospect sign for Southampton but his stint in England may soon come to an end. Rumours are that Juventus are keen on acquiring his services and many Italian scouts will be paying close attention to his form during the tournament.
Let’s be honest, there are not that many who know much, if anything, about Tahiti nor think they’ll get very far. In spite of this dearth of knowledge, we should award some praise to Tahiti for their presence in the competition. Undoubtedly the OFC has seen a decline in quality since the defection of Australia to the AFC. Nonetheless New Zealand are not a talentless team and for Tahiti to have beaten them shows great strides from such a small country.
So who to watch out for? Well Tahiti has just one professional in the roster in the form of striker Marama Vahirua. His meagre three goals, as an attacker, in the Greek Super League may not offer much hope but his fellow strikers Teaonui Tehau and Steevy Chong Hue have good records at international level. Undoubtedly Tahiti will be the whipping boys of the tournament but just being there is a great achievement for them so just sit back and enjoy what happens; probably plenty of goals, unlikely to be anywhere other than in the Tahiti goal though.
Our last team is the CAF representatives, the Super Eagles of Nigeria. Having won the African Cup of Nations for the third time earlier this year hopes will be high of a strong African performance. Their most notable player is the Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel and he will be hoping to lead the team to success. Although he endured a somewhat difficult season at the Bridge he will be confident of progressing to the semi-finals.
In addition to the experience of Mikel, another player to look out for is CSKA Moscow attacker Ahmed Musa. At only 20 he has made the step up from Dutch football to Russian and since become a key part of the CSKA team. With 11 goals to his name he’s had a wonderful season and will hopefully continue that in this tournament. His goal-scoring exploits will be the key to Nigeria’s success as the side does lack a real out and out scorer.
Well, that concludes our preview of the Confederations Cup. All there is left to say now is, roll on Saturday night…