Confederations Cup: 10 Big Squad Questions Heading into the Tournament
It’s easy to be cynical about the Confederations Cup.
The quadrennial competition, held in the year before the World Cup finals, often takes on the appearance of a FIFA money-grab, and beyond that it mostly serves as a trial run for the big tournament—a test of transit routes, ticketing strategies, stadium readiness and general infrastructure.
The average fan won’t be all that concerned about these matters.
But the fact is the football on the pitch is typically quite entertaining, and over the years the Confederations Cup has produced more than a few memorable moments.
Australia beat Uruguay on a Harry Kewell golden goal in the 1997 semifinal, only to be trounced 6-0 in the final in Riyadh. Both Ronaldo and Romario bagged hat-tricks in that encounter.
Then, just four years ago, goals in either half from Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey put the United States en route to a historic win over European champions, Spain, at Bloemfontein. The U.S. even took a 2-0 lead in the final before a Luis Fabiano-inspired come-back took Brazil to the championship.
In other words, the two weeks of football between June 15 and June 30 will be entertaining stuff, and over the course of the schedule the various national team managers will be answering some squad questions that could end up impacting their fate just over a year from now.
Following are 10 of those questions, many of which involve two of the tournament favourites: World Cup holders Spain and hosts Brazil.
Italy: The Men Up Front
Last we saw the Azzurri, Mario Balotelli was scoring a brace in a 2-0 win away to Malta.
The 22-year-old started that match up top alongside AC Milan teammate Stephan El Shaarawy, and no doubt Italy manager Cesare Prandelli will be tempted to re-deploy the pair when his side opens its Confederations Cup campaign against Mexico at the Maracana.
Of course, Balotelli could also lead the line on his own, and with Roma’s Pablo Osvaldo (who started the March friendly against Brazil) having been kicked off the team following a clash with Prandelli, that may be exactly what ends up happening.
Spain: Iker Casillas
He played his most recent match in La Liga in the third week of January, and after returning from injury in early April was relegated to the number-two role behind Diego Lopez.
Iker Casillas hasn’t played a lot of football this calendar year, but Spain manager Vicente del Bosque is prepared to keep the faith with the 32-year-old, who is also the squad captain.
Just how match-fit Casillas actually is will have a lot to do with Spain’s fortunes at the Confederations Cup, and no doubt del Bosque will be hoping his number one is restored to first-choice status at Madrid next season.
Uruguay: Diego Lugano
Diego Lugano will lead out the South American champions at the Confederations Cup, but that doesn’t mean his presence in Oscar Tabarez’ Uruguay squad isn’t something of a concern.
Lugano, 32, played very little football after being dumped by Paris Saint-Germain during the January transfer window. And while Malaga picked him up on loan, he started just two of the Spanish club’s final eight matches of the season—spending the other six on the bench as an unused substitute.
He’ll be making a move this summer, but the question remains: just how match-fit is he?
Nigeria: Options in Attack
In their World Cup qualifier against Kenya in March, Nigeria started Ideye Brown, Victor Moses and Obafemi Martins up top with Sunday Mbah providing creative support.
Martins, quite rightfully, has not been called into manager Stephen Keshi’s Confederations Cup squad, and both Emmanuel Emenike and Ahmed Musa will be will be wanting to pick up some of his minutes.
Musa, 20, is one of the country’s more exciting young stars and is coming off a title-winning season with Spartak Moscow. Emenike, meanwhile, scored a crucial goal for the Super Eagles in their Africa Cup of Nations semifinal against Mali in February.
Brazil: The Centre of Defense
Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari has plenty of questions to answer heading into the Confederations Cup, but his most comfortable decision will be made regarding the centre of defense.
Thiago Silva, David Luiz and Dante are competing for two places in front of the goalkeeper, and no matter which combination he chooses, Scolari should be confident of heading into every match with a solid back four.
Expect Thiago Silva and David Luiz to get the call in Brazil’s first match against Japan in Brasilia.
Mexico played Peru to a 0-0 draw in April, and the goalkeeper who got the clean sheet for them was Jose de Jesus Corona, who is coming off an excellent season with Cruz Azul.
But it was Ajaccio’s Guillermo Ochoa who got the start in El Tri’s last World Cup qualifier against the United States.
Manager Jose Manuel de la Torre has two pretty good ‘keepers to choose from, but look for him to stick with Corona to start the Confederations Cup.
Brazil: Attacking Arrangement
Luiz Felipe Scolari would like nothing more than for Leandro Damiao to hit a rich vein of goalscoring form at the Confederations Cup.
The 23-year-old Internacional striker has never really impressed for the national side, and his failure to make an impression has a lot to do with why Scolari continues to include 29-year-old Fluminense marksman Fred.
Fred will likely start up top for Brazil against Japan, but you’ve got to think Leandro Damiao will once again be given every chance to establish himself in the first 11.
Spain: The False 9
Spain beat Italy in the Euro 2012 final without a recognized striker.
Cesc Fabregas operated as a “false 9” in the match, and while La Roja manager Vicente del Bosque will likely start the Confederations Cup with Fernando Torres leading the line, he will not be afraid to move away from the Chelsea striker—and all of his forwards, for that matter—if they do not produce for him.
Italy: 3 or 4 at the Back
Italy manager Cesare Prandelli has the luxury of showing his opponents an assortment of looks, and coming into the Azzurri’s first match against Mexico no one knows for sure if he’ll start with a traditional defensive quartet or opt for a three-man defense in front of goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
Should he go with three at the back, he’ll be able to rely on the entire Juventus unit that won a second successive Scudetto this past season—Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Georgio Chiellini.
Prandelli seems to fancy Mattia De Sciglio, however, and including the Milan full-back would mean he’d have to go with a four-man defense, likely including Ignazio Abate, Barzagli and Bonucci.
Julio Cesar may well start Brazil’s friendly match against England on Sunday, but anything short of a standout performance could well see the Queens Park Rangers goalkeeper dropped to begin the Confederations Cup.
Jefferson, who plays his club football at Botafogo, is widely regarded as the best ‘keeper in Brazil these days, and come the World Cup he’ll be 31-years-of-age compared with Julio Cesar’s 33.
Fluminense’s Diego Cavalieri is also in manager Luiz Felipe Scolari’s squad, but the competition is really between the other two shot-stoppers.