Just one game into the 2013 Confederations Cup, and the tournament is already shaping up to be quite memorable.
Neymar's third-minute strike for Brazil against Japan is the highlight on the pitch thus far, but the tune-up for the World Cup, now just a year away, has plenty of intriguing storylines and action to come.
Let's take a closer look at why the 2013 Confederations Cup could be one for the ages.
Brazil—a Team in Transition
Much has been made about Brazil falling to No. 22 in the world rankings, though that ranking is largely due to the fact that the team hasn't had to play any World Cup qualifiers as the host nation and thus has earned fewer points in lightly weighted friendlies.
Still, there is no question that this is a team in transition. It's Neymar's show now, and the new Barcelona man can use this tournament as a showcase for his impressive skills (and as a tune-up for his move to the Catalan side).
He isn't the only youngster looking to make his mark on this team, of course. Oscar, Lucas Moura, Bernard and Paulinho all promise to be big factors in the 2014 World Cup and should all feature at the Confederations Cup as well.
Could this tournament be the birth of the next dominating Brazilian side? If Neymar lives up to the hype and his supporting cast continues to play as it did against Japan on Saturday, the answer heading into next year's World Cup will be a resounding yes.
Spain—a Team in Transition?
All eyes will be on Spain in this tournament, as the country is the defending World Cup champion and two-time defending European champion. But it is also a team that is composed of aging stars.
Xavi Hernandez is 33. Iker Casillas is 32. David Villa is 31. Andres Iniesta and Fernado Torres are 29. While this team is brimming with younger talent and the future is bright (with starlets like Isco and Thiago Alcantara waiting in the wings), some of the key contributors to Spain's golden age are, well, aging.
For now, Spain is the favorite. But if the Spanish side doesn't impress at this tournament and bows out early, there will surely be whispers about the impending demise of the world's top side ahead of the World Cup.
Tahiti—a Team Just Happy to Be Here
Tahiti has just one professional player among its ranks—Marama Vahirua of Panthrakikos—and is otherwise composed of professionals from other fields who happen to represent their country in soccer.
It is the smallest country to ever play in a FIFA senior event (population is 170,000-plus), this tournament is the country's first senior FIFA event and Tahiti might not even score a goal in its three group games.
But hey, what a story it is that Tahiti is representing Oceania in the first place.
Sure, Australia now competes in Asia's World Cup qualifying. Sure, we probably won't even see a representative from Oceania in the World Cup, seeing as the winner of qualifying faces the fourth-place finisher in North America's qualifying, a game the CONCACAF representative will be favored to win.
But Tahiti's presence in this tournament is historic indeed, even if it loses every game 7-0 (which it did to the Chile U-20 team in preparation for the Confederations Cup). It will be hard not to root for the plucky underdogs of this tournament, and if Tahiti so much as scores, it will be a wonderful showing for the country.
The Protests Begin
We've already seen a potential foreshadowing of protests leading up to the 2014 World Cup, and perhaps those that will take place during the event, at this year's Confederations Cup.
From the BBC:
Brazil's opening Confederations Cup match was affected by protests at the amount of money the country is using to stage next year's World Cup.
Up to 1,000 Brazilians demonstrated outside the country's national stadium to vent their anger.
Police used tear gas and pepper spray to control protestors, who moved closer to the stadium as fans arrived for a match in which Brazil beat Japan 3-0.
There were also reports rubber bullets were used, with 15 arrests made.
While protests at major sporting events are hardly novel, there is something jarring about seeing them in Brazil, a nation that seems to have soccer ingrained into its collective DNA and a country that for so long has represented the beauty and creativity of the game.
With a lot of public money spent on new stadiums and the long-term viability of several of those structures, you can understand the public's frustrations. The World Cup may represent so many things to so many people around the world, but for some in Brazil, it only represents a huge chunk of public money being spent on a sporting event.
These protests could very well become one of the central themes of this Confederations Cup, and thus next year's World Cup. It is not cheap to host such events, especially for countries that don't have a modern stadium infrastructure already in place, and the Brazilians may remind the world of that fact.
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