2013 FIFA Confederations Cup Soccer Championship Preview

2013 FIFA Confederations Cup
Saturday, June 15, – Sunday, June 30, 2013, TV: ESPN, ESPN2
Host Nation: Brazil
Defending Champion: Brazil
All Odds Courtesy of Bookmaker

Host Brazil is favored to win their third straight Confederations Cup.
Host Brazil is favored to win their third straight Confederations Cup.

The FIFA Confederations Cup is an 8 team tournament held the year before the World Cup in the host nation of the World Cup. It matches the host nation, the defending World Cup Champion, and the six champions of the regional federations, including North and Central America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceania. It is a chance for the World Cup host to work out the bugs in the stadiums, transportation, and infastructure before the World Cup the next year. According to reports, some of the stadiums in Brazil were way off schedule as far as construction. Some stadiums even had roof collapses or were shut down for public safety concerns. All stadiums are open now, but some of the transportation and telecommunication issues need to be worked out.

Here is a look at the 8 teams in the field with their odds to win the tournament and the group with odds courtesy of Bookmaker.

Brazil (-175 Group A, +130 Cup)

Brazil is the 2 time defending Confed Cup champions, but hasn’t won the World Cup since 2002. The Brazilians automatically qualified for next year’s Cup as the host. Because of this, they haven’t played a competitive match since the Copa America quarterfinals in 2011. Their FIFA ranking has plummeted to #22, as they have only won 2 of their last 9 games. Brazil rehired coach  Luiz Felipe Scolari, who was the coach in 2002. It really hasn’t helped. Again, it could be rust and a lack of interest for not having to go through the grueling CONMEBOL qualifying. However, this tournament will be their only competitive matches until next year.

After an aging Brazil squad was eliminated in the quarters of the 2010 World Cup by the Netherlands, Scolari picked a squad for this tournament that is younger. Gone are legends like Ronaldinho and Kaka. In their place are young stars like Neymar, Oscar, Fred and Lukas. Neymar is talented but untested at the highest level. He also draws the ire of the Selecao fans (as the team is affectionately nicknamed) for not giving proper effort sometimes. Last Sunday, he was jeered loudly as he was substituted for late in the game against France with Brazil winning 3-0. Fred could be one of the best strikers in the world. The crowd will chant for Lukas to enter the game as he is one of the most popular players and a dynamic playmaker. Goalkeeper Julio Cesar will try to keep a clean sheet.

Brazil has a very difficult group with Italy, Mexico, and an underrated Japan team. Brazil must keep a fickle home crowd on their side. The Brazilian fans are so used to success it has spoiled them, and any sign of adversity will cause them turn on the Selecao. Brazil opens with Japan, who could give them some problems. Still, I think Brazil wins the group and advances to the semifinals.

Spain (-265 group B, +155 Cup)

Spain is the two time defending Euro Cup Champion, and also won the World Cup in 2010. They became the first squad in the history of soccer to win three major FIFA tournaments in a row. They are going for the fourth in the Confed Cup. No European squad has ever won the World Cup in South America. So both Spain and Italy are bringing their A teams to get used to playing in front of the hostile Brazilian crowds.

Although, some might think it would be an inconvenience for Spain having to trek halfway across the globe for a tournament that isn’t quite as prestigious as the Euro or World Cups, the players are saying publicly that they relish the opportunity. The biggest problem for Spain is trying to get the players on the same page again after they were bitter competitors for Real Madrid and Barcelona. It wasn’t an issue last year at the Euro. Frankly, many teams would love to have the kinds of line-up juggling problems manager Vicente Del Bosque has.

La Roja is stacked of course, so that helps immensely. Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Fabregas, David Villa, Fernando Torres, Roberto Soldado, Santi Cazorla, Juan Mata, and David Silva are among the best players in the world. Superstar goalkeeper Iker Casillas is playing for the first time in 136 days due to injury, so rust could be a factor.

Spain is in group B with Uruguay, Nigeria, and Tahiti. If La Roja is properly motivated they should win this group easily. Spain opens with a tough test against Uruguay, and the Uruguayan fans should be out in force in nearby Brazil.

Italy (+260 group A, +615 Cup)

After not even making it out of the group stage at the 2010 World Cup, Italy rebounded by making to the finals of the Euro 2012. They were crushed by Spain 4-0 but Italy qualified for the Confed Cup because Spain was already in by virtue of winning the World Cup.

Italy is managed by Cesare Prandelli. The normally low key and mild mannered Prandelli was seen yelling at his players during practice before Italy’s World Cup qualifier with the Czech Republic Friday night for their lack of intensity. It didn’t work as Italy came out with a lackluster 0-0 draw in Prague.  The Italians do have a 3 point lead in their qualifying group and have a game in hand on second place Bulgaria, so some complacency has to be expected. Still, Italy played Haiti Tuesday in a friendly as a tune-up and played to another alarming 2-2 draw after leading 2-0. The Italians fell asleep and let a far inferior Haitian team back in the game. You can blame, fatigue, jet lag, a lack of interest or anything you want, but that shouldn’t happen ever.

Italian keeper Gigi Buffon was the best player in the draw against the Czech Republic. Prandelli has been using a 3-5-2 alignment, but has been experimenting with a 4-3-3. Italy will rely on Alessio Cerci and the talented yet temperamental Mario Balotelli and  Stephan El Shaarawy for scoring. Veteran playmaker Andrea Pirlo will look to get the trio the ball.

Italy is in group A with Brazil, Mexico, and Japan. The Italians open with Mexico and should battle with Japan for the second spot in the group. It could set up a semifinal showdown with Spain.

Uruguay (+270 group B, 9/1 Cup)

Uruguay qualified by winning the 2011 Copa America tournament, beating host and rival Argentina in the final. Uruguay also made it to the semifinals of the 2010 World Cup. However, Uruguay has other concerns than the Confed Cup. Uruguay is in danger of not qualifying for the 2014 Cup as they are tied for fifth with Venezuela in CONMEBOL. Only the top 4 teams are guaranteed a spot, and the fifth place team will play the fifth place team from Asia for a spot in the Cup.

The Celeste are managed by Oscar Tabarez, who was the coach in their successful runs in 2010 and 2011. Uruguay is led by dynamic striker Luis Suarez, Diego Forlan, Edinson Cavani, and playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro. The defense has been terrible during WC qualifying, as Uruguay has allowed 21 goals while scoring 18 in 12 games. Keeper Fernando Muslera has struggled along with the rest of the defense.

Uruguay is in group B with Spain, Nigeria, and Tahiti. Given Uruguay’s defensive and chemistry woes, I don’t see them getting out of the group stage. It will come down their match with Nigeria, as Spain is clearly the class of the group and Tahiti is far outclassed.

Mexico (6/1 Group A, 10/1 Cup)

Mexico won the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup to qualify for this tournament. Mexico was beaten by Argentina in the round of 16 at the 2010 World Cup. El Tri fans are nervous right now because Mexico is struggling in CONCACAF qualifying. Mexico is in third place two points behind the US and tied with Costa Rica. The top 3 teams automatically qualify for 2014 but Mexico and Costa Rica are only a point ahead of Honduras for fourth. The fourth place team will play New Zealand for a spot in the Cup. Mexico has played 3 straight scoreless draws at Estadio Azteca against the US, Jamaica, and Costa Rica, where Mexico was previously almost invincible.

The scoreless draws have put Mexico manager “Chepo” de la Torre firmly on the hot seat. A bad or embarrassing performance could cost him his job. Mexico’s offense has gone to sleep despite having Manchester United Forward Javier “Chicarito” Hernandez, one of the most talented scorers in the world. Other key strikers include Aldo de Nigris, Andres Guardado, and Giovani dos Santos. Keeper Jesus Corona has become world class and headlines a defense that has  been stellar recently. Mexico has yet to lose in either friendlies or qualifyers in 2013.

If Mexico can get out of their offensive doldrums, then they could battle Italy and Japan for second in the group. If not, it will be a short run in the Confed Cup for El Tri.

Nigeria (+715 Group B, 30/1 Cup)

The Super Eagles won the 2013 African Cup of Nations, beating rival Ivory Coast in the process. Nigeria came in last in their group in the 2010 World Cup.  Nigeria last qualified for the Confederations Cup in 1995. No team from Africa has ever won the tournament. Nigeria leads their World Cup qualifying group. The Super Eagles could be a little tired as they have played two road WC qualifyers plus a friendly against Mexico in Texas in the last two weeks.

Nigeria manager Stephen Keshi brings a team with 9 new faces from the  African Cup team earlier in the year. Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel is one of the few superstars on the roster for this tournament. Keshi left foreign based players  Peter Odemwingie and Obafemi Martins off the roster in favor of more Nigerian based players.  The strength of the Super Eagles might be the back line with defenders Efe Ambrose and Elderson Echiejile and emerging netminder Vincent Enyeama.

Nigeria should battle Uruguay for second in the group. Nigeria does get a break with what should be an easy opener against Tahiti.

Japan (12/1 Group A, 30/1 Cup)

Japan became the second team after host Brazil to qualify for the 2014 World Cup earlier this month. The Samurai Blue lost to Paraguay in the 2010 World Cup round of 16 in a shootout. Japan won the 2011 Asian Nation’s Cup to qualify for the Confederations Cup.

Now that Japan has already qualified for 2014, the Japanese have set their sights on this tournament. Japan could be a nice dark horse pick to win the whole thing. Coach Alberto Zaccheroni  has a confidant squad despite the fact that Asian teams rarely get a chance to play quality teams from Europe and South America because of the travel involved.

Most of the top Japanese players do have experience with European Clubs though. Dynamic midfielder  Keisuke Honda plays with CSKA Moscow.  Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa also contributes to the attack. Full backs Yuto Nagatomo of Inter Milan and FC Schalke’s Atsuto Uchida are also important pieces. Captain  Makoto Hasebe and 33 year old Yasuhito Endo are the primary playmakers. Goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima has struggled recently, but Japan really doesn’t have another option in the net.

Japan is in a tough group but they could surprise Italy and Mexico for second. If they do they will likely play Spain in the semifinals. That will be a tough task for the Samurai Blue as will the opener against host Brazil.

Tahiti (150/1 group B, 150/1 Cup)

Tahiti is led by star midfielder Gauguin, the great great grandson of the famous French painter. No, that isn’t true. I made that up. Actually, Tahiti won the Oceania Nation’s Cup in 2012, upsetting heavily favored New Zealand. The Warriors of Steel (Tahiti’s very cool nickname) have never qualified for the World Cup, but they did make the Under 20 World Cup in 2009 in Egypt. Those players make up the bulk of the national team.

Coach Eddy Etaeta leads a team ranked #135 in the world. He has only one player who is a professional soccer player in 33 year old striker Marama Vahirua, who plays for second tier French club Nancy. The rest of the roster is filled with amateurs and semi-pros who work as laborers, schoolteachers and salesmen for their day jobs.

Look, Tahiti is just happy to be here and will get slaughtered by Spain, Nigeria and Uruguay. In a tune-up against Chile’s under 20 team, they were destroyed 7-0. Etaeta has admitted even scoring a goal would be a monumental achievement. He has said he hopes at least a couple of his players will get contracts to play for professional teams somewhere around the world because of the exposure. Maybe Tahiti can scoff at the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema compared the beauty of their own beaches, but they are no match on the soccer pitch.

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