Confederations Cup 2013: Ranking the 8 Teams
The 2013 Confederations Cup will begin June 15, with eight nations from around the world hoping to lay down a marker ahead of the World Cup next summer.
Brazil will play host to both events, and, while much attention has been on the progress of matters off the pitch, the tournament itself threatens to offer a selection of fascinating storylines ahead of the main event next year.
Hosts Brazil will be expected to mount a strong defence of their 2009 crown, but the likes of world champions Spain and Euro 2012 finalists Italy will present the Selecao with formidable competition.
Without further ado, then, let's take a look at the eight nations set to compete for glory this summer.
The reigning world and European champions will begin the Confederations Cup as favourites for the title, by virtue of their outstanding international record of recent years.
Their failure in the 2009 tournament, though, should also ensure that they are fully motivated for what can, at times, be a competition that is not held in the utmost prestige.
After difficult seasons in European competition for many of the team's stars, though, there will be many with a point to prove, and their demolition of Italy in the final of Euro 2012 just 12 months ago will still be fresh in the memory.
It will be interesting to see what squad coach Vicente del Bosque picks for the tournament, but whichever combination he settles upon will inevitably be expected to emerge victorious.
Italy will enter the Confederations Cup full of confidence, with a fine showing at Euro 2012 and the emergence of several bright young players all indicating that they may mount a challenge this summer.
Cesare Prandelli's side have not had everything go their way over the past 12 months, but have put in good performances in several demanding fixtures. Qualification for the World Cup would appear to be a formality.
While the side will still rely upon midfielders Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi to build attacks, the link-up play of forwards Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy will be an intriguing watch ahead of future tournaments.
There are several good sides in the tournament, but Italy will be hopeful of winning their group, avoiding Spain in the semifinal and earning a place in the final.
Joint 3rd: Brazil
Brazil have not been in the best of form, winning just one of Scolari's five games in charge thus far. However, backed by a vociferous home crowd, and with the chance to train together for an extended period of time, they should offer an improved showing.
The Selecao do not lack for talent—that much is clear. The problem has rather been trying to get the best out of those talents, with managers having been unable to find the right balance for the side.
Anything short of an appearance in the final will not be well-received in Brazil, and the pressure will be intense, but there is enough about the squad to suggest they could pull it all together at the last minute.
Joint 3rd: Mexico
Gold Cup champions Mexico are unbeaten in nine games at international level, yet may still struggle to qualify for the World Cup having drawn all of their last five fixtures.
That run has taken some of the momentum out of El Tri's footballing rise, but the signs are that the current Under-17 world champions and Olympic gold medalists are a rising force in the football world.
Coach Jose Manuel de la Torre has named a strong squad for the tournament, according to Yahoo Sports, and will hope for an impressive showing ahead of the World Cup. With belief that they can conquer the best, Mexico could be a potent force in 2014.
Giovani dos Santos must find form if they are to threaten the tournament's better sides, but if he does they have a team capable of producing big results.
Joint 3rd: Uruguay
Without a win in their past five World Cup qualifying fixtures, Uruguay are another side desperately out of form at present. The Copa America champions, though, will still hope to be a force to be reckoned with this summer.
La Celeste have plenty of firepower in the shape of Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan but must find the right combination for the good of the side. Their combative midfielders, too, have seen a drop in performance levels in recent times.
Coach Oscar Tabarez, though, will have time with his squad ahead of the tournament and will hope to recapture the togetherness that took them to continental glory in 2011. He must hope, then, that some of his more experienced players can roll back the years one final time.
A good showing would help generate confidence ahead of a final push to qualify for the World Cup, and the squad, at least, will be in more familiar conditions than most of their rivals.
Just two losses from 13 fixtures over the past 12 months means that Japan should not be underestimated ahead of the competition this summer, despite a recent defeat to Jordan.
The Samurai Blue are a much improved side in recent years, and, last October, THEY beat France in Paris thanks to a goal from Manchester United star Shinji Kagawa.
Kagawa, along with the likes of Keisuke Honda, Hiroshi Kiyotake and Takashi Inui, is at the forefront of a technically gifted generation of Japanese midfielders.
The side still has weaknesses but will hope to secure the scalp of at least one big nation this summer. Japan may not have a history of success in major tournaments, but this is a very different side from just a few years ago.
The Super Eagles of Nigeria shocked everybody in winning the Africa Cup of Nations this January, having entered the tournament amid a frenzy after omission of several big-name players.
Those picked, including several players from the country's domestic league, quickly set about overcoming the problems to achieve success. In nine games this calendar year, the side are currently unbeaten.
Nobody is expecting Stephen Keshi's side to repeat their success at the Confederations Cup, but it is clear that the current unit have strong team chemistry at present—they are working for each other.
African sides are always considered difficult opponents, with their physicality and power often unnerving for other teams. Nigeria will be no different, and they possess several players proving themselves at the highest levels in Europe.
Everybody's outsiders for the Confederations Cup will doubtless be OFC Nations Cup winners Tahiti.
After the shock elimination of New Zealand to New Caledonia at the semifinal stage, the Tahitians took full advantage to win the final and claim a place at this summer's tournament.
They have, though, since lost five of their past seven games—against far from reputable opponents—and do not look in much shape to threaten a shock this summer.
The Pacific Islanders can call upon a handful of players with some low-level European experience, but they will do well to avoid heavy defeats against Spain, Italy and Nigeria.
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