Early Confederations Cup Power Rankings

Jerrad PetersWorld Football Staff WriterMarch 18, 2013

Early Confederations Cup Power Rankings

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    On Thursday in Geneva, international football heavyweights Brazil and Italy will go head-to-head in a friendly match that will serve as a test run for their Group A meeting at the FIFA Confederations Cup on June 22.

    Brazil, who have won the last two Confederations Cups and also triumphed in the 1997 installment, will be taking the tournament more seriously than the seven other participants, as their status as 2014 World Cup hosts guarantees them a place in world football’s centrepiece event 15 months from now.

    They have not played a senior competitive match since losing to The Netherlands in South Africa, and when they open the Confederations Cup against Japan in Brasilia on June 15, nearly three years will have passed since that quarterfinal defeat.

    The Confederations Cup is also a test run for the World Cup organizing committee, for the host country’s infrastructure and the readiness of the facilities. The stadiums in Fortaleza and Belo Horizonte are the only completed venues, which leaves the grounds in Recife, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia in need of work over the next three months.

    Brazil are scheduled to re-open the renovated Maracana against England on June 2.

    (A complete rundown of the World Cup stadiums was recently compiled by our own Chris Atkins.)

    Aside from the hosts and the Italians, Japan and Mexico are also in the Confederations Cup’s Group A, while Spain, Uruguay, Nigeria and Tahiti complete Group B.

    Here are Bleacher Report’s Confederations Cup Power Rankings, organized in ascending order from eighth to first.

8. Tahiti

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    The Oceania Nations Cup has been held since 1973 and, until last June, had been lifted by only New Zealand and Australia (the latter having since joined the Asian Football Confederation).

    New Zealand came into the 2012 finals in the Solomon Islands as clear favourites, but were surprisingly dumped out at the semifinal stage by stingy New Caledonia, who wound up losing 1-0 in the final against Tahiti.

    Twenty-nine-year-old midfielder Nicolas Vallar, who once represented Ligue 1 side Montpellier but now plays his club football in Tahiti with Dragon, was named tournament MVP, and the Tehau brothers Alvin, Jonathan and Lorenzo combined for 13 goals.

    Tahiti are currently ranked 140th in the world by FIFA and, but for two players, are drawn from the domestic league. Defender Tamatoa Wagemann plays semi-pro football in France, and striker Steevy Chong Hue, who scored the winner against New Caledonia, plays in Belgium.

    Tahiti (nicknamed Team Fenua) will open their Confederations Cup campaign against Nigeria on June 17 in Belo Horizonte.

7. Nigeria

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    Nigeria were the surprise winners of the Africa Cup of Nations last month, conceding just four goals in six matches while eliminating Ivory Coast, Mali and Burkina Faso en route to a third continental title.

    Manager Stephen Keshi took a lot of credit for the triumph, and rightfully so.

    Emphasizing home-based players and performance above reputation, Keshi omitted establishment internationals such as Yakubu, Obafemi Martins, Peter Odemwingie, John Utaka and Danny Shittu from his squad, while selecting the likes of Sunshine Stars defender Godfrey Oboabona and Warri Wolves forward Sunday Mba.

    Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel is the leader of these Super Eagles, and although he is only 25-years-old, he is nevertheless one of the elder statesmen in what is a very young side.

    Ahmed Musa and Victor Moses provide good attacking options on either flank, and CSKA Moscow’s Emmanuel Emenike is the first-choice centre-forward.

    Nigeria will open their Confederations Cup schedule against Tahiti on June 17 in Belo Horizonte.

6. Japan

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    Japan, who lost the 2001 Confederations Cup final to France, qualified for this tournament by winning the 2011 Asian Cup in dramatic fashion, ousting Qatar at the quarterfinal stage thanks to Masahiko Inoha’s 89th-minute goal, beating South Korea on penalties in the semifinal and toppling Australia in the final in extra time.

    Manager Alberto Zaccheroni, formerly of Udinese, both Milan teams, Lazio and Juventus, has a mostly European-based squad that includes players such as Manchester United playmaker Shinji Kagawa, Wolfsburg midfielder Makoto Hasebe and reigning Asian Cup MVP Keisuke Honda, who plays in Russia for CSKA Moscow.

    The Blue Samurai have lost just one of their last 11 international matches—a stretch that includes a 1-0 win over France at Saint-Denis—and have all but qualified for the 2014 World Cup.

    They’ll open their Confederations Cup schedule against Brazil on June 15 in Brasilia.

5. Uruguay

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    The next few days will be absolutely vital to Uruguay’s World Cup prospects. La Celeste are presently locked in a three-way battle for South America’s fourth and final automatic qualification spot with Venezuela and Chile, and they will visit the Chileans on March 26. On March 22 they’ll host Paraguay.

    Uruguay punched their ticket to the 2013 Confederations Cup after winning the 2011 Copa America in Argentina. After winning just one of their first three matches and scoring only three goals, they hit their stride in the knockout round, eliminating Argentina, Peru and finally Paraguay to win a record 15th South American title.

    Forwards Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani lead the team up front, and the 3-5-2 formation preferred by manager Oscar Tabarez is anchored by defensive midfielder Walter Gargano, with Diego Perez and Arevalo Rios completing a ball-winning central midfield.

    Uruguay will play their first match of the tournament against Spain on June 16 in Recife.

4. Mexico

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    There’s an argument to be made that Mexico are the best side in the Americas, and if any doubters remain they have only to look back to the 2012 Olympic final, where El Tri defeated Brazil at Wembley.

    Mexico are excelling at every age level these days, and the team head coach Jose Manuel de la Torre selects for the 2014 World Cup will likely be the finest group of players his country has ever sent to a major tournament.

    Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez is the leader of a very potent Mexican attack, while midfielders such as Hector Herrera, Angel Reyna, Pablo Barrera, Marco Fabian and Andres Guardado combine to form an elite grouping in the centre of the park. Herrera, in particular, stood out during the Olympics.

    Mexico qualified for the 2013 Confederations Cup by winning a sixth North American championship in 2011, in which they outscored their opponents a combined 20-4 and beat the United States 4-2 in the final at the Rose Bowl.

    They’ll open this tournament against Italy on June 16 at the Maracana.

3. Brazil

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    Three years is a long time to go without a senior competitive match, and while many of the current Brazil internationals competed together at the 2012 Olympic Games they did so under manager Mano Menezes, who has since been replaced by 2002 World Cup winner Luiz Felipe Scolari.

    Scolari will take his side into a pair of important friendlies against Russia and Italy in the coming days, and after those matches we’ll get a better sense of what his plans are for this team and whether they can carry them out.

    In their last friendly against England, Brazil struggled to get the ball upfield and clearly lacked a centre-forward with the ability to hold up play. Scolari has some decent wide attackers at his disposal, but in order to get the best out of the likes of Neymar and Lucas Moura, he needs to find someone comfortable playing between them. Fluminense marksman Fred is the leading candidate at present.

    One thing this Confederations Cup will tell us is how Brazil cope with being the tournament hosts. Will they thrive under the pressure, or will they succumb to it, as they did in the 1950 World Cup?

    Brazil will open the Confederations Cup against Japan on June 15 in Brasilia.

2. Italy

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    Italy are the only side to have qualified for this tournament without winning anything. And for that they have Spain to thank—the Spaniards booking their place as World Cup winners and leaving the European berth open to the Euro 2012 runners-up.

    Cesare Prandelli has done an exceptional job since replacing Marcelo Lippi as manager following the embarrassment of South Africa, and with a backbone of Juventus players took the Azzurri all the way to the Euro 2012 final last summer.

    Prandelli has also embraced a merit-based selection process that other international managers would do well to emulate. The likes of Mario Balotelli, Stephan El Shaarawy and Federico Peluso have made their debuts under him, and he has also blooded in new internationals such as Marco Verratti and Salvatore Sirigu.

    But it’s that all-Juventus backline that is the true strength of this team, and if goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and defenders Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini can transfer their club form to international level, they’ll find themselves in the latter stages of a tournament once again this June.

    Italy will open their Confederations Cup campaign on June 16 against Mexico at the Maracana.

1. Spain

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    You can keep them atop whatever Power Rankings list you’re compiling until either Andres Iniesta or Xavi Hernandez announces his international retirement.

    Spain are so strong in the centre of the park, where Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso also operate, that manager Vicente del Bosque is comfortable starting matches without a recognized striker, often deploying Cesc Fabregas as a “false 9.” David Villa’s return to full fitness may give Del Bosque something extra to think about, although goalscoring is hardly a concern for the manager.

    Seven different players scored at least once for Spain at Euro 2012—a fact that is even more impressive when you consider that neither Iniesta nor Xavi was among them.

    The group of Spanish internationals that announced themselves at Euro 2008 is aging, although not quickly enough to warrant the “favourites” tag to be removed before the next World Cup, never mind the Confederations Cup.

    Spain will play their first Confederations Cup match on June 16 against Uruguay in Recife.