It may not be the World Cup, but the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup hasn’t lacked either talking points or material for the highlight reel ahead of the second set of matches.
Already we have seen a Neymar golaço, a sublime Andrea Pirlo free kick, an imperious performance from Spain and a spirited effort from a Tahiti side that commemorated their only goal in Monday’s 6-1 defeat to Nigeria with a unique, boat-paddling celebration.
The four matches played have also served to, at least somewhat, separate the tournament’s eight participants. And, while we’re still more than a week away from the semifinals, we can nevertheless begin arranging the teams by power rankings.
Over the next eight slides we’ll classify, in order of worst to best, the continental heavyweights contesting this installment of FIFA’s second-most prestigious competition.
Jonathan Tehau’s goal in the 54th minute against Nigeria—a downward header from a corner-kick taken by brother Alvin—will go down as one of this tournament’s most special moments.
Although the strike only pulled Tahiti to within two goals (they’d go on to lose 6-1), it was the sort of feel-good incident that ends up transcending a competition, regardless of results.
The Oceania champions will face both Spain and Uruguay in the coming days before returning to their island homeland, but the joy and innocence with which they have approached this Confederations Cup has been nothing short of refreshing.
Luis Suarez’s exquisite, free-kick goal in the 88th minute against Spain in Recife is so far one of the most eye-catching strikes of the competition and, by closing the gap on the world and European champions to a single goal, it also created what proved a deceitful scoreline at the final whistle.
Spain absolutely dominated the Copa America winners and, had they been more clinical in the attacking third, they would surely have bagged two or three more goals by the final whistle.
Uruguay, who have struggled mightily in World Cup qualifying, will have to improve significantly ahead of Thursday’s match against Nigeria if they’re to entertain any realistic hope of progressing to the semifinals.
On the balance of play Japan probably didn’t deserve to lose 3-0 to Brazil on the opening day of the Confederations Cup.
The Asian champions sprung several dangerous counter-attacks in the first half and also came close to pulling a goal back late on in Brasilia, only to have their finishing let them down.
That said, the playmaking trio of Keisuke Honda, Hiroshi Kiyotake and Shinji Kagawa will have to be much more involved in Wednesday’s match against Italy. Veteran striker Ryoichi Maeda may see more of the pitch as well, given Shinji Okazaki’s trouble in front of goal against the tournament hosts.
Mexico manager Jose Manuel de la Torre is adamant his side controlled large swaths of Sunday’s 2-1 loss to Italy at the Maracana, which makes one wonder just what match he was watching.
The Gold Cup winners once again created few opportunities in the attacking third (meaningful offense has been hard to come by for El Tri in World Cup qualifying) and only found the back of the net when Javier Hernandez was sent to the spot following Andrea Barzagli’s foul on Giovani dos Santos.
Still, there were a few positive takeaways from the encounter. Dos Santos’ contribution was one, and Jesus Zavala had a good game in the centre of the park as well.
It’s difficult to grade a team based solely on a performance against Tahiti.
At times on Monday, the African champions appeared disjointed and disinterested—as if they were still on strike following a disagreement over bonus payments that threatened their participation in the Confederations Cup.
They did manage to put the ball in the back of the net on six occasions, however, and a draw against Uruguay in Salvador would put them in good position for a berth in the final four.
Andrea Pirlo just keeps getting better with age.
On Sunday, the 34-year-old marked his 100th appearance for the Azzurri with a spectacular, free-kick goal. Mario Balotelli followed that by fighting off Mexico defender Francisco Rodriguez to score a powerful winner in the 78th minute.
Italy manager Cesare Prandelli still has a few things to work out but, as long as Pirlo and Balotelli are firing, this machine will be a threat to drive all the way to the championship.
Just how important was Brazil’s 3-0 win against France earlier this month?
In breaking the 19-year-old duck against their international nemesis, the Selecao have gone from strength to strength, getting standout performances from some of their best players (Neymar, Marcelo) and impressive showings out of others looking to cement their places in the first team (Paulinho, Hulk).
Timing is such a massive part of international success, and it would seem Brazil are peaking at exactly the right time. Their match against Italy on Saturday will provide even more of an indication of just how far they have come.
They make it look so easy.
Against a Uruguay side that, on paper, might have made some trouble for them, the world and European champions scored twice in the first half and coasted to three points—demonstrating, once again, that as long as Xavi Hernandez is functioning as the playmaking axis and Barcelona teammates Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas are making well-timed runs into space, Spain is the team to beat.
Valencia striker Roberto Soldado finding the back of the net (it was his sixth goal in 10 appearances for his country) came as a welcomed bonus, as manager Vicente del Bosque had seemed to prefer the use of Fabregas in a “false 9” role given a previous lack of firepower from his striking corps.
Until another squad poses a serious challenge, Spain will remain atop these rankings.