RIO DE JANEIRO — The 2013 Fifa Confederations Cup will kick-off today as a preamble of what we can expect to see in next year’s World Cup.
Six out of the 12 proposed stadiums for the World Cup will be used for the tournament including the legendary Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
Group A: Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Italy
The host nation is the clear cut favourite to win the group. Even with the absence of Ronaldinho and Kaka, the Brazilian team is still the second best squad of the tournament (only behind Spain) and of course they have home field advantage.
Brazil has playmakers on all of their lines, Thiago Silva and David Luiz lead the back line, while Hulk and Neymar lead the offence.
The battle for second place will be certainly entertaining to see as Japan, Mexico and Italy have strong squads.
The problem with Mexico and Italy is their lack of consistency, Mexico has tied eight out of nine games in 2013, but we have to keep in mind that they have not lost. They have allowed only five goals in nine games, three of them from the penalty spot.
The good news for Mexico is that contrary to the Concacaf qualifiers, these teams will be more vertical and will attack instead of dropping back, and defend hoping to catch them off-guard on a counter-attack.
It is when other teams put pressure and attack that Mexico tends to play at its best and when the people up front like Andres Guardado, Giovani Dos Santos and Javier Hernandez find open space it makes them dangerous for opponents.
If Mexico can get to the level they had two years ago, they are definitely contenders in the group, Also goalkeeper Jose Corona has played a key role. If his form continues he will keep Mexico in the games.
Italy has lost a lot of momentum in the seven years following their 2006 World Cup success. The only bright spot for Italy since then was reaching the final of the Euro in 2012, but fell to Spain 4-0. They also seriously underperformed in the 2008 Euro, 2009 Confederations Cup and 2010 World Cup.
They arrive at the tournament after a 2-2 tie against Haiti, who came from behind and scored twice in the last six minutes to salvage a draw.
Italy has the third strongest squad in the tournament, but is made up of very veteran players that are well in their 30s and young inexperienced players. Although this is not the best combination, you can never rule them out. The key players for the Azurri are goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, midfielders Andrea Pirlo and Riccardo Montolivo and striker Mario Balotelli.
Japan is probably the team that arrives to the Confederations Cup in the best form in this group. The Asian champions should feel a little extra motivated after securing their place in the 2014 Fifa World Cup on June 4.
On the attack, Japan is very dangerous especially with Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa.
Prediction: Brazil and Italy advance
Group B: Spain, Uruguay, Nigeria, Tahiti
No question about it, even with injuries from Carles Puyol and Xabi Alonso, Spain is the best team by far. Goalkeeper Iker Casillas, will get to play his first official match since February, after he suffered a hand injury and later was sidelined by Real Madrid’s manager Jose Mourinho after he recovered.
This was a controversial decision that led to the manager’s exit at the end of the season. The team is the core of the same squad that won the 2010 Fifa World Cup and the 2012 Uefa Euro. There is no question that they are the prohibitive favourites to earn the trophy, the only major trophy Spain has yet to collect.
The backline will be lead by Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos, while Xavi and Iniesta will carry the load in the midfield and David Villa, David Silva and Fernando Torres will be a big threat up front.
Nigeria, who obtained Africa’s title earlier this year, bring a mature squad with a lot of potential. Players like John Obi Mikel bring experience to the midfield, goalie Vincent Enyeama adds security in the back and a young promise on the attack with Anthony Ujah are the players to watch for.
More than likely Nigeria and Uruguay will battle for the runners-up spot, and just by taking a look at recent performances, the African nation has a small edge on the Charruas.
Uruguay, reached the semifinals in the 2010 Fifa World Cup and took the Copa America title a year later, but after that success the South American team has really struggled. Currently they sit in fifth in the South American qualifiers, but are closely being chased by Venezuela and Peru.
The best asset the Charruas have is their attack with experienced Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez, Edison Cavani and Abel Hernandez.
The big underdog of their tournament is the OFC Nations Cup champions Tahiti, who qualified by winning their first OFC Nations Cup in 2012. The islanders clinched the title with a 1-0 win over New Caledonia.
However, in the World Cup qualifiers their fate changed drastically as they lost home and away to New Zealand and New Caledonia, winning just one of six games at home against the Solomon Islands. A realistic goal for Tahiti in the Confederations Cup is to allow fewer than 12 goals in three matches they will play.
Prediction: Spain and Nigeria advance
The Confederations Cup is always full of upset and surprises and wonderful stories and one should expect a great show.
In 2003, Cameroon surprised everyone by reaching the final, in 2005 it was Mexico who had a great show by defeating Brazil and taking Argentina and Germany to the wire, and in 2009 after a disappointing performance in the group stage, the United States stunned Spain in the semifinals 2-0, and were close to defeating Brazil in the Final.