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Confederations Cup gives preview of soccer's best

June 14, 2013|By Andrew Gastelum
  • Brazil's Marcelo takes part in a team training session Friday in preparation for the FIFA Confederations Cup.
Brazil's Marcelo takes part in a team training session Friday in preparation… (Dean Mouhtaropoulos / Getty…)

The eight-nation Confederations Cup begins Saturday in Brazil. And for many, this soccer tournament is just a dry run to see if Brazil is ready to host next year’s World Cup.

But to Brazilians, this is their showcase — and nothing but a Confederations Cup championship trophy will do.

The tournament is split into two groups. And Group A, with Brazil, Japan, Mexico and Italy, is the talent-heavy one.

Looking at Brazil’s form since it crashed out of the 2010 World Cup in the quarterfinals, it was somewhat lucky to have a reserved spot in this tournament. Brazil was eliminated in the 2011 Copa America quarterfinals, had a tumultuous Olympic campaign — losing to Mexico in the finals — and fired it head coach in November.

There is a lot of pressure on this young, unproven Brazilian squad, led by 21-year-old phenom Neymar. Still, Brazil enters as one of the favorites, and many expect it to play World Cup champion Spain in the finals.

Italy failed to make it out of the group stage in the 2010 World Cup, after winning four years earlier. But the Azzurri have revitalized their elderly defensive system and added a youthful offensive flair under Coach Cesare Prandelli.

Meanwhile, Japan was one loss away from not qualifying for the 2014 World Cup last year, but ended up sweeping through the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, clinching a spot in the Confederations Cup. In October, Brazil flattened Japan 4-0 in a friendly, and the two teams will meet Saturday in the opening match.

Mexico looked like it could beat anyone in 2012, sparked by a come-from-behind championship win over the United States at the 2011 Gold Cup. But El Tricolor has put its 2014 World Cup qualifying chances in jeopardy with its recent play. Dynamic forward Giovani Dos Santos (Real Mallorca) has seemingly disappeared after a fine 2011 season.

In recent years, Spain has won nearly every major tournament it has showcased. Except one: the 2009 Confederations Cup, with an epic loss to the U.S. in the semifinals.

Leading up to this year’s tournament, Spain’s Head Coach Vicente del Bosque took a surprising risk by omitting the in-form Michu (Swansea City), who was fifth in the Premier League with 18 goals, and Alvaro Negredo’s (Sevilla) 25 goals in La Liga. Nevertheless, Spain is the clear favorite.

Uruguay won the first ever World Cup in 1930. Coach Oscar Tabarez seems to have returned Uruguay to the brink of its glory days. His team is 19th in the latest FIFA world rankings.

Nigeria has always been a talented yet inconsistent force in African soccer. It entered the 2010 World Cup as an up-and-coming threat, then failed to qualify for the 2012 African Cup of Nations, before winning the 2013 African Cup of Nations. But the Nigerians will miss leading scorer Emmanuel Emenike (Spartak Moscow).

The shocker of the group is Tahiti, as the French Polynesian island of nearly 200,000 people had never qualified for a FIFA tournament. Coach Eddie Etaeta said his team will be “playing with the big boys” in Brazil. And that might be his only realistic goal in this tournament.

The final is June 30 in Rio de Janeiro.

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