The Confederations Cup will provide the world with a fantastic opportunity to steal an insight into some of the teams who will be present at next summer’s World Cup.
While the tournament will doubtless see some experimentation—as coaches attempt to settle on a formula that works or a balanced lineup that maximises their team’s strengths, I expect the majority of sides to focus on developing cohesion and mentality among their first eleven.
The Confederations Cup gives national teams an invaluable chance to test themselves against some of the world’s finest, and to endure and adapt to the demands of tournament football in the context of Brazil.
In this piece I rank the eight teams present at the competition, and give you an insight into each side’s tactical approach.
Tahiti aren’t just bottom of these rankings, they trail behind in last place by quite a considerable margin. The reality is that it’s very rare that a team so ill-placed for a major international competition find themselves rubbing shoulders with the world’s elite.
After having won the OFC Nations Cup last season, Tahiti have earned their place at this summer’s bonanza—but don’t expect to see them knocking around beyond the group stage.
Marama Vahirua, who plays for Nancy in the French top flight, leads the line and is the team’s only professional player. He may be long past his prime, but the experienced forward is still a cut above his teammates.
The rest of the squad are all amateurs, although, Alvin Tehau is another player with some experience playing overseas. The left midfielder has enjoyed spells in Europe and in Asia, and be it bombing down the left flank or contributing in attack, he will be keen to make a good impression this tournament.
Little has changed for Alberto Zaccheroni and his squad since they won the Asian Cup back in 2011. It was the triumph that earned them a berth at the Confederations Cup, and the Blue Samurai will be keen to prove the doubters wrong.
At a glace, the Asian champions might well be out of their depth in a group containing heavyweights Italy, Brazil and Mexico. Their suspect defence will doubtless come under intense scrutiny once again, and is likely to be tested more than in the parochial confines of Asian competition.
Japan should receive great protection from the midfield two in Zaccheroni’s 4-2-3-1 formation. Yasuhito Endo and Makoto Hasebe will surely be key to the side’s progress; they both protect the back line, and support the attacking four ahead of them.
One of Japan’s key weapons recently has been their attacking full-backs—but with Yuto Nagatomo recently suffering an injury, it remains to be seen whether he and Atsuto Uchida will be able to make an impact this summer.
Their forward quadrant of Ryoichi Maeda, Shinji Okazaki and playmakers Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa may offer fluidity and menace, but this exciting collective will have their work cut out against the defences on display in Brazil.
A strong work ethic, an impressive technical base and firm organisation are all valuable assets, but they will surely require a good start against Brazil in Brasilia this Saturday.
Stephen Keshi has stuck to the same cluster of players in recent fixtures, with a few players switching around in order to find a perfect blend. The back five remain the same—those men that stood so firm during the nation’s resolute run to the African title earlier this year.
Vincent Enyeama is a goalkeeper of real class, who emerged from a trying 2012 to demonstrate his value as one of the genuine leaders in this young squad. Ahead of him, Elderson Echiejile, Kenneth Omeruo, Godfrey Oboabona and Efe Ambrose have forged a remarkably accomplished unit.
In Keshi’s 4-3-3 formation, the correct balance in midfield is crucial. After an unconvincing start to the African Cup of Nations (AFCON), Nosa Igiebor and Fegor Ogude were dropped and replaced by the defensive terrier Ogenyi Onazi and the progressive Sunday Mba. The pair flank John Obi Mikel—who operates as a talismanic, deep-lying playmaker.
Up front, the absence (through injury) of Victor Moses and Emmanuel Emenike is a real blow to Keshi’s hopes of testing his strike-force against sterner defences this summer. The misfiring Ideye Brown was replaced by Koln forward Anthony Ujah for the recent World Cup qualifying match. Expect one of those two to be supported by the raw pace and direct running of Ahmed Musa and Milan forward Nnamdi Oduamadi—brought into the squad following the Cup of Nations triumph.
A solid outfit, the Super Eagles lack a genuinely creative talent in the midfield, and the forward line looks a little lightweight without Moses and Emenike, nor the disposed talents of Obafemi Martins and Peter Odemwingie.
The key question facing the South Americans this summer—and the question that may come to define their fortunes, surrounds the attacking options available to Oscar Tabarez.
Any manager faced with the diverse talents of Edinson Cavani, Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez would normally relish the prospect of meshing their talents to the team’s advantage. Tabaraz has struggled with this issue however, and has generally failed to find a solution that fits to the benefit of the collective.
Despite being past his best and no longer the intense goal threat he once was, Diego Forlan has, at times, appeared indispensable. Now operating in a deeper role, Forlan uses his intelligence and subtlety to craft opportunities for his partner, and link the midfield and the attack.
However, favouring a 4-4-1-1 formation which, theoretically, offers both stability and an attacking threat, Tabarez has tended to cull one out between Suarez and Cavani; usually the Napoli forward.
If they can overcome their recent poor form and figure out the best way of bringing their talented stars together, Uruguay could profit from being in the weaker of the two groups and go on a run this summer. If they fail to do this, they will face major questions ahead of the World Cup next year.
Thus far, the reign of Jose Manuel de la Torre has been cagey and uninspiring. The results have often been negative as 2013 has brought eight draws and only one victory—against Jamaica in a recent World Cup qualifier. The performances have been lacking in spark and some of the decisions surrounding personnel have been baffling.
Regardless, Mexico have demonstrated that they are tough to beat. The side have a resilience about them—as exhibited in the recent draw with Nigeria when El Tri fought back with only 10 men.
They also have the individuals to cause problems at the Confederations Cup—but only if they can rediscover the fluidity and carefree attacking approach that used to be the side’s forte.
The Young Marvel, Andres Guardado, can be a dangerous prospect while running at defenders down the flanks. While Giovani dos Santos has begun to flourish once more since leaving Tottenham Hotspur. If de la Torre decides to play him through the middle, then Mexico may well prosper.
Javier Hernandez is a striker of genuine pedigree, and one who looks effortlessly comfortable leading the line for the national side. Despite the tough draw and the negativity, I am quietly optimistic about Mexico’s chances this summer.
Despite being taken apart by Spain in the final of Euro 2012, Italy gave a great account of themselves throughout the tournament, and demonstrated that they are advancing well with the massive post-2010 rebuilding project.
The manager, Cesare Prandelli, has vast resources available to him, and has demonstrated a strong understanding of the tactical approaches required to get the best out of his selected squad.
He has also shown his preference for attacking football, and this current Italian vintage look to take the play to the opposition, rather than react to what is placed before them.
In the Milan pair of Stephan El Shaarawy and Mario Balotelli, the Azzuri possess a potent attacking force—while Andrea Pirlo will once again operate as the side’s creative heartbeat. Riccardo Montolivo hasn’t quite lived up to the early promise of his career, but will ably assist the Metronome.
Alessio Cerci is another who has taken time to blossom. Finally given his opportunity with the national side, expect him to seize any opening thrown his way.
How do I begin to explain why Brazil, and not Spain, top the power rankings ahead of this Confederations Cup? The Spaniards are, after all, the World and European champions; the first team to win three back-to-back major international tournaments; and the world’s genuine, dominant force in football—as demonstrated in the 4-0 pulverisation of Italy in the Euro 2012 final.
I think, to sum up their conundrum, while the good have become great, the great have gone backwards.
The likes of Santi Cazorla, Juan Mata, David Silva and Javier Martinez have grown immeasurably as footballers over the last few years, and are now so accomplished that they would surely command a spot in almost any other national side—but their own.
Similarly, full-backs Cesar Azpilicueta and Nacho Monreal have matured enormously, and look primed to force their way into the narrative of this golden generation.
However, while the majority have become stronger, many of the side’s elite appear to have entered a decline which—if not terminal, is certainly very worrying.
Carles Puyol’s injuries and age mean that he has all but abdicated his guaranteed spot in the heart of the defence for Spain and Barcelona. Xavi Hernandez—whilst still incredibly reliable—has endured a disappointing campaign with his club side.
Problems still continue up front, where both Fernando Torres and David Villa have fallen far from their best. And bearing this in mind, it is baffling that—with 25 goals in 36 La Liga games this season—Alvaro Negredo has been completely overlooked.
The absence of Xabi Alonso is another complication that Spain will need to contend with this summer.
Having finally broken their duck against France by securing their first win under Felipe Scolari, Brazil will head into this summer’s Confederations Cup buoyed by new-found confidence. They will also enjoy an enormous home-field advantage.
If they can get off to a good start against Japan and iron out a few of the squad’s issues, they could be on for a hugely successful summer ahead of their hosting of the World Cup.
Fred should lead the line up front—having seen off the challenges from Luis Fabiano and the injured Leandro Damiao. Behind him, Neymar will feature on the left side of a creative three. After his performance against France, Oscar will look to claim the central berth, leaving Lucas Moura and Hulk to vie for the right-sided spot.
A midfield two of Paulinho and Luis Gustavo offers dynamism, brawn and not a little technical competency, and the pair will look to fill in when those behind them saunter forward to join the attack.
The full-backs—Marcelo and Dani Alves—will be constantly keen to widen the play and push forward. While the triangle at the core of the defence—Julio Cesar, Thiago Silva and the elegant David Luiz—is arguably one of the finest in international football.
On top of all this, wonder-kid Bernard is an exciting and unpredictable option from the bench.