10 Bold Predictions for the Confederations Cup
The 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup will kick off in earnest on June 15, with Brasilia's Mane Garrincha stadium playing host to Brazil against Japan in the tournament opener.
The hosts will be defending their title from four years previous, but will face intense competition in the form of World Cup winners Spain, Euro 2012 finalists Italy and Gold Cup winners Mexico in particular.
Off the field, there will be intense focus on Brazil's readiness to host the event, as well as next summer's World Cup. However, given the standard of the teams involved, the on-pitch action should be well worth watching.
Let's, then, try to make 10 bold predictions ahead of the tournament.
1. Brazil Will Exit During the Group Stage
It will be difficult for the home fans to accept if it should come to pass, but there is a very real possibility that the selecao will not make it out of their Confederations Cup group later this month.
With Italy, Mexico and Japan also hoping for a spot in the semifinal, Brazil cannot afford to slip up against what will be three difficult opponents.
One win in six games since the return of Luiz Felipe Scolari to manage the side last December is hardly form to inspire confidence, and the side have looked bereft of belief in recent games.
Ahead of the World Cup they will be desperate to please the home support, but the possibility of an early exit would appear very real.
2. Spain Will Win, but Questions Will Be Raised
Vicente Del Bosque's Spain side will be heavy favourites to add another trophy to their collection this month, but will more than likely face criticism on the way.
Tahiti will be little trouble for La Roja, but slow performances against Nigeria, Uruguay and any knockout stage opponents will invite the side's critics out in numbers.
It was a similar pattern of events last summer at Euro 2012, where Spain came in for intense criticism ahead of the final with Italy. The response was somewhat predictable, though, as they turned on the style to breeze past the Azzurri 4-0 in Kiev.
It will also be interesting to see whether the decision to leave out Xabi Alonso is challenged at any point, while the necessity of including Xavi is another question that has loomed large in recent weeks.
3. Uruguay Will Disappoint
Uruguay come into the Confederations Cup in terrible form, having won just one of their past nine games—a friendly victory over Poland last November.
They will have a friendly against France and an away qualifier against Venezuela in which to try and improve that record ahead of the tournament, but both will be difficult fixtures.
While the country can boast plentiful talent in attack, they are an ageing side in both midfield and defence. There is also real concern that they have yet to fully unlock the talents of Edinson Cavani in a La Celeste shirt.
The draw has not been kind to them, giving an opening clash with Spain ahead of what will likely be the group decider against Nigeria. Oscar Tabarez and his side would doubtless have preferred to ease into the competition against Tahiti.
4. Neymar Will Answer His Critics
He has just signed with Spanish giants FC Barcelona for a fee of £49 million (BBC), but Brazilian youngster Neymar still finds himself at the centre of an intense debate as to the level of his ability.
This will now be his first international tournament involving sides from outside of South America and would be the perfect opportunity to set the record straight among his doubters.
For Brazil to avoid disappointment, Neymar must fire. It is that simple.
Safe in the knowledge that he will be joining one of the world's elite clubs next month, the stage is set and waiting for a relaxed Neymar to show the wider world exactly what he is capable of.
5. Javier Hernandez Will Provoke Increased Speculation
With 32 goals in 47 appearances for his country, striker Javier Hernandez has a mightily impressive record at international level. For opponents, he will very much be the man to watch over the next few weeks.
However, given his lack of regular game time at club level this season, Hernandez has been frequently linked with a move away from Manchester United this summer. Should he score goals in Brazil, that speculation is only likely to increase.
Given Brazil's defensive frailties, and Japan's weakness at centre-back, the odds are stacked in his favour. A lack of games this season should mean he is fresh and ready for action, meaning the newspapers will already have their transfer stories queued up.
Mexico may not be entering the tournament in great form, but Hernandez rarely fails to perform when in an El Tri shirt.
6. Kenneth Omeruo Will Earn a Spot in Chelsea's Pre-Season Plans
It's now 18 months since 19-year-old Nigeria centre-back Kenneth Omeruo signed for Chelsea, since when he has spent time developing his skills in the Eredivisie with ADO Den Haag.
Thus, having never really spent any time in West London, he has passed under the radar somewhat. What is clear, though, is that he is a very interesting long-term defensive prospect.
At the Africa Cup of Nations in January, he was outstanding. His performances at the event, which earned Nigeria qualification to the Confederations Cup, stirred mutterings that he would head back to Chelsea this summer.
Perform well over the next few weeks and that suggestion will become an almost certainty. Many expect Omeruo to emerge from the event as one of the unexpected stars of the tournament.
7. Bernard Will Add to His Valuation
Bernard has come into the Brazil squad for recent fixtures after a terrific 18 months at Atletico Mineiro alongside Ronaldinho. His spell at the club, though, is likely to end this summer. (Sambafoot)
What remains to be seen is where he will end up leaving for and for how much. German side Borussia Dortmund and Premier League challengers Tottenham are the clubs most heavily linked (Portuguese), but good showings could further add to the competition for his signature.
Bernard is highly unlikely to start for Brazil in the tournament, but should have plenty of chances to impress off the substitutes' bench.
As recognition of his talent grows, so too will his price.
8. Italy Will Reach the Final
It is just under a year since Italy reached the final of Euro 2012, only to see a resurgent Spain run riot and score four times in Kiev's Olympic Stadium.
The competition, though, was a great success for the Azzurri, who had not been particularly fancied to make a substantial impact pre-tournament.
Since then, Italian football has continued to gather steam as a bright young generation of attacking talent comes to the fore—led by the enigmatic Mario Balotelli.
On paper, the Italians are the second-strongest side in the Confederations Cup, and, full of confidence, have a great chance to challenge for honours once more.
9. Japan Will Be King-Maker in Group A
Japan may not advance from Group A—which looks to be the tougher of the two groups—but will certainly play a major role in determining who does progress.
The Samurai Blue are an ever-improving side and will hope to end the competition with at least one scalp to their name. Whichever side they do take points from—out of Brazil, Mexico and Italy—will then be facing real problems to ensure progression.
On June 15, Japan take on Brazil in the opening game of the tournament, and they will be looking to kick off their campaign with a bang.
10. Cesc Fabregas Will Be the Top-Scorer
Cesc Fabregas will hope to be a major part of the Spain national team this summer, and, given his side's strength, should have plenty of opportunities to get himself on the scoreboard.
Given Tahiti's presence in the tournament, the top scorer will almost certainly come from Group B, and Spain's players will be among the early favourites.
While La Roja may choose to rest some of the older players for the Tahiti clash, Fabregas should be involved and will look to add to his international goal collection.
David Villa and Fernando Torres will also be eyeing the top-scorer crown, but Fabregas may just be a better-value bet.