Brazil’s recent friendly with England has whetted the appetite for this summer’s Confederations Cup. With only two weeks to go until the tournament finally kicks off, Bleacher Report take a look ahead at the host’s opponents, and previews Group A.
While the Selecao are likely to be the main attraction, their three rivals will doubtless draw intrigue of their own. Brazil opens against Asia’s champions Japan, before facing testing bouts with Gold Cup winners Mexico, and Euro 2012 runners up, Italy.
The options are glorious. Fred will lead the line, flanked by Neymar, and possibly Hulk—although the Zenit St Petersburg player is capable of operating as a terrific impact substitute. A midfield could feature technicians such as Hernanes and Oscar, although it remains to be seen whether either has the ability—just yet—to dictate a contest like some of their international opponents.
Arsenal target Julio Cesar will play in goal, while a defence of Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz and Marcelo offers grit, technical ability, attacking flair and elegance—although doubts remain about its true calibre.
The Star: Neymar
Neymar has cemented his place as the spearhead and sparkling light of this Brazilian team. The team doesn’t feature as many stars as in previous years, but the former Santos forward almost makes up for this single-handedly.
Having made his move to Barcelona, for a mouth-watering £49 million, next season will allow the world to meet the real Neymar. At this point in time, doubts still linger as to whether the prodigal talent has the depth of quality to consistently impact the upper echelons of the sport.
If things don’t go to plan, this tournament may represent the final pinnacle of Neymar as the Golden Boy of Brazilian football.
The Boss: Luiz Felipe Scolari
Recent disappointment with Palmeiras hasn’t gone too far to damage Scolari’s reputation in his homeland, and the coach still carries huge emotional value in Brazil following his World Cup win as manager in 2002.
Friendly performances since he took over from Mano Menezes have been slightly disappointing, with the team failing to seal that first victory. But now that the initial bedding-in period and selection experiments have drawn to a close, the time has arrived for the real Selecao to stand up.
How They Got There
Qualified as hosts, a privilege that continues over to the World Cup next summer.
Been There Before
Brazil enter this competition as both the most successful team in the competition’s history, and the reigning champions. Final victories against Australia, Argentina and the United States have seen delightful performances from the likes of Ronaldinho, Romario, Adriano and Luis Fabiano.
While questions over personnel decisions will continue right up until the opening bell against Japan, perhaps more concerning is Brazil’s lack of competitive football. They have appeared to lack a cutting edge in recent friendly contests with England, Russia and Italy, and it remains to be seen whether three years without a senior competitive fixture will affect the squad’s conviction and approach.
If Scolari can get the best out of his talented squad, then a dream Brazil/Spain final could well be on the cards. If things don’t start well against Japan, then the pressure will be on to perform, in front of a baying public, against long-term nemeses Italy and Mexico.
World Cup qualification looks all but secure, with the Asian giants only one game away from confirming themselves as the first team to qualify for the tournament, after hosts Brazil. The midfield is particularly impressive, with a creative triumvirate of Shinji Kagawa, Makoto Hasebe and Keisuke Honda, they are the envy of every other Asian nation.
Having enjoyed a promising maiden season in the Premier League, Shinji Kagawa has impressed with his transition from the Bundesliga. He received major backing from Sir Alex Ferguson with his selection for some major clashes, and rarely looked out of place.
Shinji Kagawa will undoubtedly continue to grow into the stature of United, and into the demands of the Premier League, but he will surely relish the crucial role he will hold for the national side this summer.
The Boss: Alberto Zaccheroni
Italian manager who found success in his homeland with Milan, before taking the leap to international coaching. Has the experience of high-pressure situations, having held the hotseat at both Milan clubs, both Turin clubs and Lazio, but the Japan job represents a very different challenge.
Has constructed a largely European-based squad, and has great support in East Asia following 2011’s cup triumph.
How They Got There
Asian Cup winners back in 2011, they secured a berth in the Confederations Cup following a tense, dramatic extra time winner against Australia in Doha. It was the Samurai Blue’s 4th continental triumph.
Been There Before
Drew bravely with Brazil en route to a runners-up spot in 2001. Eventually beaten by France in the final, on home soil in Yokohama, the performance was a promising portent for the next summer’s World Cup. Reached the group stage in 2003 and 2005.
Zaccheroni has continued his tradition of constructing attacking teams, and Japan have often sparkled since he took the hot seat. However, while the Blue Samurai have enjoyed taking apart the likes of Jordan, Qatar and Syria, the established defences of Brazil, Mexico and particularly, Italy, will prove to be a genuine test for Japan’s attacking abilities.
Brazil and Japan may have “over a century of history between them” according to FIFA, but things may not be so mutually respectful as they contend the tournament’s opening game. Brazil will look to appease and impress the home crowd, and, with Mexico and Italy lying in wait, a defeat would leave Japan living dangerously.
A talented collection; experienced heads like Carlos Salcido and Gerardo Torrado contrast with mercurial stars such as Andres Guardado, Giovani dos Santos and the recalled Pablo Barrera.
Likely to devastate with pace, and keen to dominate contests down the flanks before feeding the clinical Chicharito, who may or may not be supported by Aldo de Nigris.
Questions do surround a collection of central defenders who have struggled to equip themselves for international competition.
Under pressure after a run of uninspiring draws in the early stages of the year, showed resolve and character to fight back and secure a 2-2 draw against Nigeria in a recent friendly.
The Star: Javier Hernandez
Demonstrated his class once again in the recent friendly draw with Nigeria, scoring a goal in each half. The second was an exquisite illustration of poaching play—clinical finishing allied with intelligent positioning and intuitive movement.
Has been lost, to an extent, in the furore and paraphernalia of Robin van Persie’s maiden season at Old Trafford, but hasn’t missed many opportunities to show his irresistible goal-scoring ability.
The latest in a long line of devastating Mexican frontmen, and the perfect foil for the myriad of creative talents that support him, Hernandez could be set for a big summer.
The Boss: Jose Manuel de la Torre
A former international, de la Torre enjoyed a storied playing career at a number of Mexico’s top clubs, as well as Spanish side Real Oviedo.
Has been managing El Tri since 2010, following stints with Toluca and former club, Guadalajara. Major questions are being asked of his stewardship following underwhelming progress in the World Cup qualifiers.
How they got there
Qualified after winning the 2011 Gold Cup; their second consecutive victory and their third consecutive final spot.
Beat long-time rivals the United States 4-2 in an exciting final at the Pasadena Rose Bowl, with goals from Pablo Barrera, Andres Guardado and Giovani dos Santos.
Been there before
Regular qualifiers since the competition’s inception in 1992, Mexico were champions in 1999, when they hosted the tournament. They beat this year’s opposition Brazil 4-3 in a thrilling final.
Now 24, has the time finally come for Giovani dos Santos to rise to the occasion and steal the show as he once promised to do as a youngster? An experienced campaigner at international level, with 62 apps, has begun to show what he is capable of for Mallorca, in 2011’s Gold Cup triumph and for the national side at the Olympics—can he bring some of these top performances to the Confederations Cup?
Likely to battle it out for second place in the group with the Italians; the opening game between the two, on the 16th June, is absolutely vital. The Mexicans look set to take the tournament very seriously, and I can see them pipping the Azzurri to a quarterfinal berth.
Almost all of the key performers from Euro 2012 will be there, although Andrea Barzagli is a doubt with an Achilles tendon injury. Juventus stars form the core of the team, while Cagliari’s Marco Sau and Michael Agazzi have received maiden call-ups.
While Mario Balotelli is likely to steam the majority of the headlines—and many of them may well be positive—the real star is Andrea Pirlo.
The undisputed favourite of Bleacher Report staff, the deep-lying playmaker is still enjoying the Indian summer of his career after being released by Milan. A second consecutive Serie A title with Juventus this season is all the more impressive when considering Pirlo’s pivotal role.
Will doubtless be looking towards a glorious swansong at next year's World Cup, a strong showing this summer could be invaluable.
Took over the pieces of Marcello Lippi’s aged squad after the catastrophic World Cup outing of 2010; has worked wonders to revitalise the team so quickly. Impressed tactically during Euro 2012 before being torn to pieces in the one-sided final.
Managed at a number of Italian teams including Parma, Fiorentina and Lecce before ascending to the national job.
How they got there
With Spain winning both the World Cup and the European Championships, Italy received a spot in the Confederations Cup in virtue of their being the beaten finalists in Euro 2012.
Been there before
Only one previous outing, an ignominious group stage exit in South Africa 2009. The performance would foreshadow their subsequent humiliation in the World Cup proper; beat the United States in the opening contest before losing to Egypt and Brazil.
Not a question, so much, but I am personally excited to see how the Afro-Italian forward line of Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy fares in a bona fide international competition. Having developed an exciting cohesion and impressive understanding for club side Milan, the pair will be keen to make a major impact at the World Cup next summer.
The group is particularly taxing, and after a long and tiring season, the opening clash with Mexico will be a major test. Italy held their own with Brazil in March’s prestige friendly in Geneva, but I imagine it may be a different story in the Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador come the 22nd of June.