Confederations Cup preview

The Confederations Cup gets underway next week with Brazil facing Japan in Brasilia.

It is a fitting way to kick off the quadrennial competition, the traditional dry run to the following year’s World Cup – Brazil and Japan are the first two teams to have qualified for next year’s competition, Brazil as hosts and Japan through Asian qualifiers.

They meet Italy and Mexico in a tough looking Group A, whilst the other section pits a series of continental champions against eachother, Spain from Europe, Uruguay from South America, Africa’s Nigeria and from Oceania there is Tahiti.

All the pressure will be on Brazil this summer. It is a crucial opportunity for Luis Felipe Scolari’s side to gain invaluable competitive action and the only chance they will have before the World Cup gets underway next year. Brazil have had few competitive games in the last few years and so it is a rare opportunity for them. But Brazil have been unconvincing for a while now. They laboured in the 2011 Copa America, and Mano Menezes was always on a hiding to nothing in his position, especially after his side were beaten in the final of last year’s Olympic Games in London to Mexico. But Menezes was cultivating an exciting attacking side around Neymar, Oscar, Leandro Damiao and Hulk.

Then in came Scolari, appointed to rediscover the glories of 2002. Scolari was appointed a year before their World Cup triumph that year in South Korea and Japan, and he will be hoping to replicate the trick again next year. But the home crowd have been restless when the Selecao have played of late and they will feel the pressure of home ‘advantage’ during the Confederations Cup.

They have a tough group to get out of as well, up against Cesare Prandelli’s Italy for one. They got to the final of the European Championships last year, impressing with their fluent attacking play – strangely for an Italian side. With Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio and Daniele de Rossi they have a superb central midfield, which sits in front of a rock solid defence made up of Juventus stars Giorgio Chellini, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Gianluigi Buffon. With AC Milan players dominating up front, Riccardo Montolivo behind Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy, they are a well organised unit who can threaten.

But then Japan will be no pushovers. Always improving, the hard working Japanese have technical players like Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda who can drive them forward. They cannot be discounted, and certainly neither can Mexico. Jose Manuel de la Torre’s side have been fast improving in recent years, winning trophies right left and centre. The FIFA under 17 World Cup holders, who came third in the under 20 World Cup, are Olympic Champions, Pan American Champions and Toulon winners in 2011. So many youth tournaments have been won by this gifted young team, boasting up and coming talents from Javier Hernandez and Erick Torres, to Hector Herrera, Marco Fabian and Javier Aquino, they have an immensely talented squad.

But this is just Group A. In the other group are the best team in the world, Spain. Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas lead their charge, but Spain have been deposed as the king’s of European club football by Germany. Will their national team continue its success? Well for one thing Bayern Munich won the Champions League in no small part thanks to a Spaniard, Javi Martinez, who will replace Xabi Alonso for this tournament. Spain are filled with so much talent they have to compete.

Uruguay are in a transitional stage after a difficult World Cup qualifying campaign thus far, in which they have struggled to make an impact and may not be back in Brazil next year for the World Cup. Which would be a shame as the story would be fascinating, with Uruguay the side who famously shocked the hosts Brazil 2-1 at the Maracana in 1950 to steal the World Cup from under their opponents’ noses. Nigeria are also in Group B, having won the African Nations Cup earlier this year, announcing their re-emergence as a power. And the group is made up by little Tahiti, a country with barely 200,000 inhabitants. A fascinating tournament awaits.