11 Players You Need to Know Prior to the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil
The Confederations Cup will kick off in Brazil midway through next month, with the competing sides looking to lay down a marker ahead of the World Cup next summer.
It will also be a chance for individual players to press claims for starting spots in the teams involved, with games now running out for managers to experiment with their sides.
While most of the players involved will be familiar to many football fans, with the exception of those from underdogs Tahiti, there are still several potentially important players who are less well known.
Now, then, let's take a look at 11 lesser-known players who could make an impact at the 2013 Confederations Cup.
Bernard (Atletico Mineiro)
Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari pulled a surprise selection in naming Atletico Mineiro forward Bernard in his squad for the Confederations Cup, but he may just have pulled a masterstroke in selecting the youngster.
A lively presence in attacking midfield, Bernard has struck a wonderful partnership with Ronaldinho at club level, with his pace and energy complimenting the veteran's unique skill.
Bernard has the ability to be a match-winner if given the chance to impress and will hope for opportunities to shine at the tournament. He may only be a squad player at first, but he could make a significant impact from the bench.
At just 5'5" tall, the Atletico player is a diminutive figure but offers an energetic presence in both attack and defence for his side. Given his ability, also, to conjure up moments of magic, he is an ideal player to hold in reserve.
Hiroshi Kiyotake (Nurnberg)
With four goals and 10 assists in his first Bundesliga campaign, Hiroshi Kiyotake has been one of the breakthrough figures of the recent German league season.
Having arrived from Cerezo Osaka, few had expected such an impact. However, Kiyotake has followed in the footsteps of national team colleague Shinji Kagawa in adapting quickly to life in Germany.
Kiyotake is a crafty and technically gifted presence behind the forward line, looking to play quick one-twos and play strikers into goalscoring positions.
For Japan, he will have to share the limelight with fellow midfielders Kagawa and Keisuke Honda, but he has the potential to play a major role should the Samurai Blue cause a shock in Brazil this summer.
Javier Aquino (Villarreal)
Mexico midfielder Javier Aquino is another player who has enjoyed a successful start to life in Europe this season, having joined Villarreal from Liga MX side Cruz Azul in January.
A left winger, Aquino offers an abundance of pace and skill on the flank but has at times failed to offer a consistent end product when in good positions.
Since arriving in Spain, though, Aquino has become a popular figure with the club's fans and could get the opportunity to shine in La Liga next season if they can clinch a late promotion.
Aquino has been a regular starter for El Tri in recent fixtures and will be expected to be a regular source of supply for striker Javier Hernandez.
Having regularly shown his impressive potential over recent years, it is now time for Aquino to prove that he is ready to shine on the international stage.
Grêmio midfielder Fernando was a surprise inclusion for Brazil in recent friendly encounters with Italy and Russia and excelled in the absence of regular midfielders Ramires and Paulinho.
Whether those performances will be enough to earn a starting spot at the competition remains to be seen, but what is certain is that he will not disappoint if called upon.
For Brazil, both at the senior and Under-20 levels, Fernando has played a typical holding role at the base of the midfield. At club level, meanwhile, he has been more of a box-to-box figure, although to equally good effect.
There have been mutterings that Fernando could be heading for Serie A side Napoli this summer (Sambafoot), and a good tournament could ensure that he earns his big-money move.
Sunday Mba (Warri Wolves)
Nigeria midfielder Sunday Mba shot to prominence at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, where he put in a series of excellent performances to help his side to the title.
Life, though, has not been easy for the attacking midfielder since that tournament, with a row between two Nigerian clubs over his ownership keeping him out of action for some time (BBC).
However, the Super Eagles will hope that the winning goalscorer from the Cup of Nations is able to regain that form this summer.
Everton, Reading and Tottenham were rumoured to be interested in securing the player's signature (Metro), but no one has yet been willing to part with the rumoured £4 million fee his club are asking for his signature.
Nicolas Lodeiro (Botafogo)
Uruguayan attacking midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro has struggled to come to grips with high, early expectations in his career but appears to have recently settled into a run of good form.
Lodeiro, now 24, joined Brazilian side Botafogo from Ajax last summer (Goal.com), after a slow bedding-in process helped to recently fire the side to the Rio de Janeiro state championship title.
Talent has never been an issue for the young playmaker, who was tipped for greatness when he moved to Holland in 2010. Injury and poor form, though, ensured that he never fulfilled his potential at the club.
Confident once more, and among the goals in Brazil, Lodeiro will hope to take his chance with La Celeste this summer.
Having disappointed at the 2010 World Cup in a very good Uruguay side, now is Lodeiro's chance to prove himself at an international tournament.
Hector Herrera (Pachuca)
Mexico midfielder Hector Herrera, who was one of the stars of the 2012 Olympic Games, has continued to impress for club side Pachuca since the competition.
He may not be a Pachuca player much longer, though, with various Spanish language media outlets reporting, such as this article from Marca, that Herrera will be joining Liga Sagres side Porto next season.
A hardworking presence in the centre of midfield, Herrera is unlikely to start for his country at the tournament but could be a valuable presence when attempting to close out games.
However, with El Tri's first-choice midfielders now ageing, he may well play himself into first-team contention.
At 23, Herrera represents one of Mexico's brightest prospects for the years to come, and he'll hope to take the next major step in his career in Brazil this summer.
Kenneth Omeruo (Chelsea)
Chelsea-owned defender Kenneth Omeruo was one of Nigeria's standout performers at the Africa Cup of Nations in January and is set to return to his parent club from a loan spell at ADO Den Haag this summer (FutAA).
The 19-year-old originally joined Chelsea in January 2012 from Belgian outfit Standard Liege but has spent the past 18 months developing his game in the Netherlands.
In Brazil, Omeruo will once more link up with defender Joseph Yobo at the heart of his country's defence and will hope for a good performance to cement his place at the international level ahead of next summer's World Cup.
A strong and powerful centre-back, Omeruo must still perfect some of the technical elements of his game, but he has all the basic attributes to be a very impressive central defender.
Takashi Inui (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Japanese attacking midfielder Takashi Inui is another to have taken the Bundesliga by storm this season, playing an important role in an Eintracht Frankfurt side performing above expectations.
With six league goals to his name this campaign, as well as five assists (Whoscored), Inui is unlucky not to be a regular at the international level. However, with Kiyotake, Kagawa and Honda in possession of the shirts, he is forced to settle for a role as a substitute.
However, that is not to say that he cannot make an impact. With games at the competition likely to be hard-fought affairs, there will surely be plenty of opportunities for Inui to influence games from the bench.
A fine dribbler, Inui uses his pace and technical ability to good effect to create chances for his side. Late in a game, his speed and energy could be useful assets.
Jadson (Sao Paulo)
Former Shakhtar Donetsk attacking midfielder Jadson has been in great form for club side Sao Paulo this season, earning a place in the Brazil squad for a second successive international tournament.
Now 29, his decision to leave Ukraine and return home appears to have paid off, with a fine 12-month spell having propelled him into the national team setup. Having shone in a recent victory over Chile, his inclusion was always likely.
Jadson is a more dynamic figure than several competitors for the No. 10 shirt, and that is an important reason behind his inclusion. His ability to play a number of midfield roles, also, will have no doubt been a factor. He will likely start the tournament as a backup for central playmaker Oscar.
Brazil have bemoaned over a lack of passing midfielders in recent years but have included two fine examples in Hernanes and Jadson for the upcoming tournament. It is now time for both players, though, to prove they are good enough for this level of competition.
Beñat (Real Betis)
Real Betis midfielder Beñat will travel to the Confederations Cup with Spain this summer in the hope of seeing game time should any of the La Roja regulars require resting.
After two outstanding seasons at Betis, the creative central midfielder's stock is on the rise. At just 25 years old, he is several years younger than some of his positional rivals in the squad.
With the player set to move on from his current club this summer, the tournament could play a big role in determining his future. At present, it is the Premier League that seems the most likely destination (101 Great Goals).
He should, at least, be handed an opportunity to impress in the group stage clash with Tahiti, but it would be good to see Del Bosque test Beñat in a meaningful game ahead of next summer.