Confederations Cup is usually considered as a stage rehearsal for World Cup both on and off the field. It gives the host nation a chance to get a reality check on how ready it is to host one of the biggest events in sports while for the participating nations, it often is a crucial tournament to get their team combinations and tactics in place. This year’s Confed Cup contains former world champions Italy, Brazil, Uruguay along with defending champions Spain – four countries which have won 12 out of 19 World Cups amongst themselves. Confed Cup 2013 also sees the entry of tiny Tahiti, which created history in their own rights.
Undoubtedly the group of death, Group A sees Italy and Brazil reignite their traditional rivalry. If the presence of two of the most successful countries in football wasn’t enough, Group A also contains Japan, unarguably the best team in Asia in past decade along with 2012 Olympic gold medalists Mexico.
Just like the organizers, Confed Cup will be an acid test for Felipe Scolari’s Brazil side as well. Some sections, including the legendary Zico has dismissed the current Brazilian team as being the weakest in years. Recent indifferent results as well as falling to a lowly 22nd position in FIFA Rankings haven’t helped the Selecao either. Brazil is blessed with individual talents like Neymar but they are yet to find a formula to gel these players together to form a coherent unit. Scolari has been coming under increasing pressure in recent times though the recent mauling of France will ease some of it.
For Cesare Prandelli, the team gelling problem lies only in the final third where Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Sharawaay are yet to form the potent combination they were expected to. Prandelli has a fully fit squad to make selections from and is expected to make some tactical adjustments, possibly switching to a 4-3-3 system. Italy’s performance in 2009 Confederations Cup was particularly depressing as Marcelo Lippi’s side hobbled out of the competition after losing two out of three matches and Prandelli will be looking to put up a much better showing. Italy recently drew 2-2 against minnows Haiti after giving up a 2-0 lead in last 6 minutes and will be looking to bounce back from that shock result.
A few days back, Japan became the first country, other than hosts, to qualify for 2014 World Cup. With a squad largely based in Europe, especially Bundesliga, Japan has emerged as one of the toughest teams out of Europe and South America in past few years. Former Serie A winning coach Alberto Zaccheroni has done a stellar job with the side since taking over and it will not be wholly surprising if Japan upset the bigger names in their group.
Mexico has always been a tough nut to track for big teams and they are taking one of the most experienced sides in this year’s Confed Cup. Recent years have been good for Mexican football and have seen the country clinch an Olympic Gold medal, triumph in Pan American Games and CONCACAF Gold Cup as well as win U-17 World Cup. The Central Americans have tasted past success in Confed Cup as well, winning the title in 1999.
How do you keep a set of players who have won 2 European titles, one World Cup and a slew of titles in club level, motivated? That will be the question which will be asked from Vicente del Bosque frequently as Spain aim to become the first country to defend World Cup in more than half a century. Spain were shocked by USA in 2009 Confed Cup semis and La Furia Roja will be looking to add this trophy still missing from their cabinet. They are well-placed in their World Cup qualification group and are expected to breeze to the semi-final from Group B.
Defending South American champions and 2010 World Cup semi-finalists Uruguay’s World Cup qualification campaign is in complete disarray right now. The inaugural world champions had not won a single qualifier since June 2012 before picking up three invaluable away points against direct rivals Venezuela on Tuesday. This was a huge victory for Uruguay and will give them a much-needed confidence boost. With the next set of qualifiers not starting before September, the Confed Cup will be a golden opportunity for the South Americans to fix their tactical flaws.
Nigeria qualified for Confed Cup after a memorable AFCON triumph at the start of 2013. The Super Eagles finished 4th the last time they qualified for this tournament, almost twenty years back. World Cup qualification is still a long way ahead given the multiple rounds in CAF Qualifiers but Nigeria are well placed to top their group in second round and need 4 points from remaining two matches to clinch it mathematically. A bulk of the AFCON winning squad has been selected for Confed Cup as Nigeria look to repeat the heroics against Spain from 1998 World Cup.
Tahiti is of course, a surprise entry in Confederations Cup. One of the more consistent nations in the dotted Pacific circle, Tahiti has finished runners-up in OFC Nations Cup thrice but had never managed to get the better of Australia or New Zealand. All that changed in the 2012 edition when Tahiti cruised from the group league after starting off with a 10-1 demolition of Samoa. A narrow victory over Solomon Islands took them to the final but it was in the other semi-final that the most important event took place with New Caledonia shocking 2010 World Cuppers New Zealand 2-0. Tahiti had already defeated New Caledonia once in group league and duly repeated that result in the final, successfully holding out Chong Hue’s 10th minute strike. In their Confederations Cup debut, Tahiti are not expected to upset the apple-cart of favorites. For them, the experience of playing against the likes of Xavi Hernadez, Andres Iniesta and Luis Suarez is likely to override any results on the pitch. Tahiti’s presence also considerably diminishes to complexity of Group B.