Confederations Cup 2013: Players Who Must Step Up in Semifinal Stage
As the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup dwindles down to just four teams in the semifinal stage, some notable players have struggled, and their teams can't afford for that to continue.
Italy and Brazil have already punched their tickets to the knockout stage, while Group B still isn't settled with Spain, Nigeria and Uruguay still in the mix entering the culmination of the group stage on Sunday.
Let's take a look at the players who need to turn things around for their teams.
Gianluigi Buffon, Italy
The Juventus goalkeeper is one of the most well-known shot-stoppers on the planet, but he's been far from that so far in the 2013 Confederations Cup.
After a strong performance against Mexico in their opener, where he only gave up one goal, things got much tougher for the Italian after that.
He gave up three goals against Japan in his side's 4-3 victory. While the first of which was a penalty, it was Buffon who slid in on the Japanese attacker and gave his opponent the penalty shot, pinning a yellow card on the 35-year-old. Each of the next two goals were shot nearly right at Buffon but too quickly for him to react.
Fortunately for him, Italy was able to rally from that two-goal deficit, but it was nothing short of shocking to see a goalie of Buffon's caliber put his team at such an early disadvantage.
He wasn't as lucky against Brazil on Saturday. Buffon gave up four goals to give the Brazilians Group A despite a strong performance from Italy's attackers.
If Italy have real aspirations of making it to the championship match, it'll take a real turnaround from Buffon.
It's awfully hard to find a Brazilian player who didn't play well throughout the group stage, but if there's one who needs to improve his game, it's left-back Marcelo.
The Real Madrid man has made his impact on the offensive end, chipping a lovely pass that led to one of Fred's goals against Italy. But in that game, he also showed his struggles on the defensive side.
Brazil looked lost defensively against Italy despite their 4-2 victory. The Italian attackers were all over the place in the attacking third, and Brazil's back line couldn't do anything to stop them from putting together some great scoring chances.
Sure, Italy may be one of the most skilled teams they'll face in the Confederations Cup, but any struggles they have against this foe will pale in comparison to how they'll look if they play a similar game against, say, Spain.
Marcelo is the X-factor for Brazil's defense because so much of his obligations rely on pushing the ball offensively. It often takes away from what his real focus should be, which is to help shore up Brazil's back line.
Roberto Soldado, Spain
Well, Spain hasn't technically earned a spot in the semifinal heading into their match against Nigeria, but it would likely take a four-plus goal loss for them to be ousted from the tournament.
The Valencia striker has been in favor for much of the Confederations Cup, scoring a goal in the opener against Uruguay before sitting for the lopsided 10-0 victory against Tahiti.
But in Spain's telling match against Nigeria that will conclude the group stage, head coach Vincente Del Bosque has opted to start Soldado in place of Fernando Torres again, per Craig Turnbull of Goal.com.
Let me get this straight—Soldado hasn't struggled like Buffon and Marcelo. It's awfully hard to find a player who has struggled on a team that has outscored their opponents 12-1 in the last two matches.
But if Spain are going to rely on the 28-year-old to man their attack with world-class strikers like Fernando Torres and David Villa on the bench, he'll have to prove his worth.
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