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Confederations Cup 2013: Team by Team Preview

The 2013 Confederations Cup kicks off in Brasilia on Saturday with a strong line up of teams competing in the World Cup dress rehearsal a year before the real thing takes place next summer. Most of them will expect to return for the 2014 World Cup – only Tahiti have been eliminated so far from the qualification process – so it’s a good chance for them to hone their preparations and get some valuable experience of the Brazilian conditions. Here’s our guide to the teams and how they will fare.

Team: Brazil
Manager: Luiz Felipe Scolari
Qualified as: Hosts

Last 5 results: Group A Fixtures:
Brazil 1-1 Russia (London, 25-03-2013, FR)
Bolivia 0-4 Brazil (Santa Cruz, 06-04-2013, FR)
Brazil 2-2 Chile (Belo Horizonte, 25-04-2013, FR)
Brazil 2-2 England (Rio de Janeiro, 02-06-2013, FR)
Brazil 3-0 France (Porto Alegre, 09-06-2013, FR)
Japan (Brasília, 15-06-2013)
Mexico (Fortaleza, 19-06-2013)
Italy (Salvador, 22-06-2013)

Star Player: Neymar. The Santos striker is the most exciting attacking talent in Brazilian football at the moment, but he still has a lot to prove, especially at international level. His goals record of 20 in 34 games for Brazil is impressive but, having made his debut just after the last World Cup, most of his national team experience has come in friendly matches. He did feature in the 2011 Copa America and 2012 Olympics, scoring in both tournaments, but wasn’t able to help his team to success on either occasion. It’s easy to forget that he’s still only 21 as he seems to have been in the headlines for years since he shot to prominence at a young age and led Santos to their Copa Libertadores triumph in 2011 and rarely a week has gone by in the past two years without rumours linking him with a big money move to Europe. New he’s finally heading to Barcelona to test himself in La Liga and he’ll want to leave his homeland on a high by impressing at the Confederations Cup before he starts his new adventure.

One to Watch: Oscar. The Chelsea midfielder has been playing an increasingly prominent role in the Brazil national team of late and now has seventeen caps and six goals to his name. Also only 21, he is coming into the tournament off the back of a successful first season in Europe where he excelled in the English Premier league and won the Europa league. His fleet footwork and incisive passing, not to mention his lethal shooting ability, make him an important supplier and scorer of goals and a successful Confedereations Cup campaign will go al long way towards staking his claim for a first team spot come next summer. Brazil could be building their team around him for years to come.

Prediction: We expect Brazil to rise to the occasion and put recent patchy form behind them by reaching the final of this event on their home soil. They have selected a strong and talented squad and will be treating the competition very seriously as it represents their only chance of competitive action in the build up to the World Cup finals. Home advantage should help them see off Japan and Mexico in their opening games and we expect them to win their group and reach the final, possibly against Spain, which would be a close encounter but they may just edge it.

Team: Japan
Manager: Alberto Zaccheroni
Qualified as: Asian Cup 2011 Winners

Last 5 results: Group A Fixtures:
Japan 2-1 Canada (Doha, 22-03-13, FR)
Jordan 2-1 Japan (Amman, 26-03-13, WCQ)
Japan 0-2 Bulgaria (Toyota, 30-05-13, FR)
Japan 1-1 Australia (Saitama, 04-06-13, WCQ)
Iraq 0-1 Japan (Doha, 11-06-13, WCQ)
Brazil (Brasilia, 15-06-2013)
Italy (Recife, 19-06-2013)
Mexico (Belo Horizonte, 22-06-2013)

Star Player: Shinji Kagawa. The Manchester United midfielder has now won league titles in each of his last three seasons in Europe and has an impressive scoring record for his country of 13 goals in 43 games. His versatility allows him to be deployed in a variety of positions out wide or just behind the strikers and his ability to drift into gaps between the lines makes him very hard for opposition defenders to pick up. He will be a key player for Japan in Brazil, both this summer and next, and he’s likely to be at the heart of most of their attacking moves.

One to Watch: Gotoku Sakai. The youngest player in the Japan squad at just 22, Sakai has enjoyed a promising first full season in the Bundesliga at VFB Stuttgart. The fullback made 27 league appearances and came on as a substitute in the German cup final although he was on the losing side against Bayern Munich. Born in New York, he grew up back in Japan and played for Albirex Niigata before he moved to Stuttgart, initially on loan, in January 2012.

Prediction: They lost a bit of momentum with surprise defeats against Jordan and Bulgaria earlier this year but recovered to seal their World Cup qualification and will present a strong challenge in Brazil. However, its a tough group and they’ll be up against it from the off as they face the hosts in the opening game. We think Japan will put on a good showing but just miss out on a semi final spot and finish third in the group.

Team: Mexico
Manager: José Manuel de la Torre
Qualified as: CONCACAF Gold Cup 2011 Winners

Last 5 results: Group A Fixtures:
Peru 0-0 Mexico (San Francisco, 18-04-2013, FR)
Mexico 2-2 Nigeria (Houston, 01-06-2013, FR)
Jamaica 0-1 Mexico (Kingston, 05-06-2013, WCQ)
Panama 0-0 Mexico (Panama City, 08-06-2013, WCQ)
Mexico 0-0 Costa Rica (Mexico City, 12-06-2013, WCQ)
Italy (Rio de Janeiro, 16-06-2013)
Brazil (Fortaleza, 19-06-2013)
Japan (Belo Horizonte, 22-06-2013)

Star Player: Javier Hernandez. 32 goals in 47 international appearances is a phenomenal scoring record confirming that the Manchester United striker is one of the most prolific marksmen around at the moment. His goals per minutes played record in the Premier League is exceptional and he is lethal poacher from anywhere in and around the six yard box, both with his head or either foot. However, Mexico have been struggling for goals of late, so the onus will be on him to perform in Brazil.

One to Watch: Javier Aquino. The 23 year old with 15 caps may not yet be a regular starter for his country but he is certainly a useful weapon to have on the bench to unlock a tight encounter. Having spent his early career with Cruz Azul, the winger moved to Villareal of Spain in the January transfer window this year and helped them gain promotion back to the to flight. His intelligent approach play could prove help end the Mexican goal drought.

Prediction: All depends on whether Mexico can find their touch in front of goal and whether or not they are tired after three intense World Cup qualification matches just before the tournament. If they don’t get off to a good start then it could all be over very soon as they face Brazil and Italy in their opening games. We suspect that their recent mediocre form is set to continue and they’re not going to make much impact on this competition, finishing bottom of the group.

Team: Italy
Manager: Cesare Prandelli
Qualified as: Euro 2012 Runners-Up

Last 5 results: Group A Fixtures:
Italy 2-2 Brazil (Geneva, 21-03-13, FR)
Malta 0-2 Italy (Ta’Qali, 26-03-13, WCQ)
Italy 4-0 San Marino (Bologna, 31-05-13, FR)
Czech Republic 0-0 Italy (Prague, 07-06-13, WCQ)
Italy 2-2 Haiti (Rio de Janeiro, 11-06-13, FR)
Mexico (Rio de Janeiro, 16-06-2013)
Japan (Recife, 19-06-2013)
Brazil (Salvador, 22-06-2013)

Star Player: Mario Balotelli. His strength, pace and power make the 22 year old a different type of forward to many of those used by the Azzurri in recent years and he has been a great success at the spearhead of the Italian attack during and since their Euro 2012 campaign. His tempestuous spell at Manchester City was brought to an end in January and he has prospered in his new surroundings at Milan where he’s beginning to find the consistency he lacked in England. He’s now the main man up front for the national team and opposing managers and defenders alike will be given a few headaches trying to figure out how to stifle his threat. On his day, he’s unplayable.

One to Watch: Stephan El Shaarawy. Balotelli’s Milan team mate is the youngest player in a generally fresh faced Italian squad and, at only 20 years of age, he has the chance to experience his first major tournament and stake a claim for a place in Brazil next summer should Italy qualify. With Egyptian family roots on his father’s side, El Shaarawy broke into the Milan team in the wake of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s move to PSG and did a good job of lessening the impact of his departure with some fine attacking performances. He can play out wide or as an orthodox striker and will be a good option on the bench this summer.

Prediction: Prandelli’s Italy are tough to beat and in Balotelli they possess a real match winner so we can see them progressing from Group A alongside Brazil. They may well come up against Spain in the semi finals and suffer a repeat of their Euro 2012 final defeat which would leave them in the third place play-off, where we predict they will lose to Uruguay.

Team: Spain
Manager: Vicente del Bosque
Qualified as: World Cup 2010 Winners

Last 5 results: Group B Fixtures:
Spain 3-1 Uruguay (Doha, 06-02-13, FR)
Spain 1-1 Finland (Gijon, 22-03-13, WCQ)
France 0-1 Spain (Paris, 26-03-13, WCQ)
Spain 2-1 Haiti (Miami, 08-06-13, FR)
Spain 2-0 Republic of Ireland (New York, 12-06-13, FR)
Uruguay (Recife, 16-06-2013)
Tahiti (Rio de Janeiro, 20-06-2013)
Nigeria (Fortaleza, 23-06-2013)

Star Player: Andres Iniesta. The Barcelona playmaker will once again be one of Spain’s most important players at a major tournament. At 29, he’s now in the prime of his career and should be the creative driving force for his country in Brazil as time begins to catch up with some of his erstwhile colleagues. Xabi Alonso is out injured and Xavi, at 33, looks tired after a long season, so the rest of the squad will be looking to Iniesta for inspiration as Spain try to win the one trophy missing from their collection.

One to Watch: Javi Martinez. With Sergio Busquets struggling for fitness and Xabi Alonso missing, this could be the perfect chance for Javi Martinez to finally nail down a regular spot in Spain’s midfield, where he has enjoyed so much success for all-conquering Bayern Munich this season. His versatility means he has often been shunted around between defence and midfield so far in his career, but his neat passing game, ball control and positional sense mean that he has all the attributes to become the mainstay of the midfield for years to come.

Prediction: It has been a long hard season for many of Spain’s players, but the motivation should be there to try and capture the Confederations Cup. They have all the tournament know-how and experience from their recent successes and the most talented squad of players in the world, so they are definitely going to be contenders. We think they will win their group and make the final where they could face the hosts. They will come close but tiredness could be the factor that denies them in the end.

Team: Uruguay
Manager: Óscar Washington Tabárez
Qualified as: Copa America 2011 Winners

Last 5 results: Group B Fixtures:
Spain 3-1 Uruguay (Doha, 06-02-13, FR)
Uruguay 1-1 Paraguay (Montevideo, 22-03-13, WCQ)
Chile 2-0 Uruguay (Santiago, 26-03-13, WCQ)
Uruguay 1-0 France (Montevideo, 05-06-13, FR)
Venezuela 0-1 Uruguay (Ciudad Guayana, 12-06-13, WCQ)
Spain (Recife, 16-06-2013)
Nigeria (Salvador, 20-06-2013)
Tahiti (Recife, 23-06-2013)

Star Player: Luis Suarez. The Liverpool striker will be fresh and raring to go due to his club suspension and his international goalscoring record of almost one in two is positively frightening. He has been at the spearhead of the Uruguay attack alongside Cavani and the ageing Forlan for several years now and they enjoyed much success at the last World Cup and Copa America, largely due to their attacking triumvirate. He has had another exceptional season in the English Premier League where his mazy penalty box runs make him a nightmare for defenders and regularly induce penalties. If Uruguay progress to the latter stages, he should be one of the stars of the tournament.

One to Watch: Edinson Cavani. The Napoli striker is a well-known figure these days following several highly successful seasons in Serie A but he’s been talking of a move away from the club in the press in recent weeks so the managers of some of the world’s biggest clubs will be watching him closely in Brazil as they weigh up whether or not to bid big bucks for his services. At 26, he should still have his best years ahead of him and could be headed for Chelsea or Real Madrid this summer so a good showing in the Confederations Cup might help seal the deal.

Prediction: Uruguay should have enough in their locker to overcome inexperienced Nigeria and Tahiti sides to make the latter stages of the tournament but they will probably come up against Brazil there and come unstuck. However, we predict them to bounce back and win the third place play off.

Team: Tahiti
Manager: Eddy Etaeta
Qualified as: OFC Nations Cup 2012 Winners

Last 5 results: Group B Fixtures:
New Caledonia 0-1 Tahiti (Franconville, 26-09-12, FR)
Tahiti 0-2 New Zealand (Papeete, 13-10-12, WCQ)
New Zealand 3-0 Tahiti (Christchurch, 16-10-12, WCQ)
Tahiti 2-0 Solomon Islands (Papeete, 23-03-13, WCQ)
New Caledonia 1-0 Tahiti (Noumea, 26-03-13, WCQ)
Nigeria (Belo Horizonte, 17-06-2013)
Spain (Rio de Janeiro, 20-06-2013)
Uruguay (Recife, 23-06-2013)

Star Player: Marama Vahirua. Tahiti’s most prominent player and the only one with really extensive top level experience in Europe. He was something of a teen sensation in France when he broke into the Nantes team in the late ninety’s and he scored some crucial goals in their 2000-01 championship season when his trademark canoeing celebration was a familiar sight on Frenchh TV screens. He also won the Coupe de France twice with Nantes  before a journeyman career path took him to Nice, Lorient, Nancy and Monaco. He spent the last season on loan at Panthrakikos in Greece. He earned U-21 caps for France but hasn’t played full international football and is joining the Tahiti squad for the first time at the age of 33. His experience and poise on the ball should be a valuable asset to an inexperienced squad.

One to Watch: Steevy Chong Hue. The 23 year old striker has an impressive international scoring record, averaging almost a goal every other game, and will be looking to impress in Brazil this summer in the hope of attracting the attention of European scouts. He was briefly on the books of a lower division Belgian club a couple of years ago but it didn’t work out. He scored the goal that won Tahiti the OFC Nations Cup (1-0 v New Caledonia) to seal their place in the Confederations Cup and he will be one of their main goal threats in Brazil.

Prediction: Just being here is a victory in itself for Tahiti and they won’t be expecting to gain anything other than experience from their trip to Brazil. Scoring a goal would be a good result, but we wouldn’t be too hopeful of even that happening and we fully expect them to lose all three matches.

Team: Nigeria
Manager: Stephen Keshi
Qualified as: Africa Cup of Nations 2013 Winners

Last 5 results: Group B Fixtures:
Nigeria 1-0 Burkina Faso (Johannesburg, 10/02/2013, ACN)
Nigeria 1-1 Kenya (Calabar, 23/03/2013, WCQ)
Mexico 2-2 Nigeria (Houston, 01/06/2013, FR)
Kenya 0-1 Nigeria (Nairobi, 05/06/2013, WCQ)
Namibia 1-1 Nigeria (Windhoek,12/06/2013, WCQ)
Tahiti (Belo Horizonte, 17-06-2013)
Uruguay (Salvador, 20-06-2013)
Spain (Fortaleza, 23-06-2013)

Star Player: John Obi Mikel. The Chelsea midfielder is by far the most capped outfield player in this inexperienced Nigeria squad and the rest of the players will be looking to him for leadership in Brazil. His all round game in the centre of the park makes him a vital part of the team, integral to all their defensive work and attacking moves. At only 26, he’s actually one of the oldest players in this squad that has been hit by some high profile injuries and withdrawals, and he should be approaching the prime of his career. Much will depend on how he performs.

One to Watch: Ahmed Musa. Almost any one of Nigeria’s young squad could be picked out as one to watch, but we’ve gone for the 20 year old CSKA Moscow winger-cum-forward who has already accumulated 26 caps in his short international career, with four goals to boot. He was a key part of the team that won the double in Russia this year, having begun his career in Europe with VVV Venlo in Holland back in 2010. He scored in Nigeria’s semi final win in this year’s Africa Cup of Nations and made a substitute appearance in the final.

Prediction: Nigeria’s squad is full of potential and will gain useful experience of playing in Brazil that will serve them well if they make it back for the World Cup finals next summer. However, this tournament might have come just too soon for them and they could struggle against Spain and Uruguay. We expect them to come third in the group with a victory over Tahiti.

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