The 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup has featured some standout performances from some of the brightest stars in world football, but as the semifinals approach, the stakes only increase.
Thus, those who have put on a show so far have more to lose if they come up short in the bigger games. Some players' numbers are inflated by weaker opposition in group play, too, which also plays a factor in assessing how much they have to lose.
Let's take a closer look at a trio of marquee standouts who will be under the microscope as the action in Brazil draws to a close.
Note: Statistics and results were obtained from ESPNFC.com, unless otherwise indicated.
Fernando Torres (Spain)
Having Tahiti in group play almost gave Torres too easy of a path to the Golden Boot. The 10-0 romp that occurred saw the 29-year-old Chelsea striker plow home four goals.
It almost wasn't fair against such an outmatched opponent, so it would be nice to see Torres confirm that solid performance by scoring multiple goals in the Confederations Cup from here on out.
Torres has a trend of these sort of occurrences—like at UEFA Euro 2012, when he won the Golden Boot by scoring his side's third goal in the 84th minute when the match was already 2-0.
That will be substantially more difficult in the knockout phase against the stout defensive backfield of Italy—the club that allowed that last Torres score at Euro 2012.
Although Torres scored once in the win over Nigeria, he's still bound to face a bit of scrutiny that he's leading because of one outlier match against such an inferior opponent.
Abel Hernandez (Uruguay)
Not to be too redundant, but the competition really beat up on Tahiti in Group B. Hernandez was the beneficiary of a generous fixture offering from the hapless club, and he also scored four goals in Uruguay's 8-0 romp.
Three of those came before halftime, so he was the driving force on the attack from the beginning and scored within the first two minutes of the match.
However, it wasn't a fair gauge of how Hernandez is playing—especially with an impending match against the host Brazil.
One key difference between Torres and Hernandez, though, is that the Uruguayan striker is only 22 years old and still has plenty more time to shape his legacy. What he achieved against Tahiti is somewhat easier to celebrate.
Plus, it was a rather historical occasion that hadn't been duplicated in nearly 50 years, per ESPN's Paul Carr:
Having said that, it also highlights that Hernandez needs to prove himself facing better defenders. He'll get all he can handle in what should be a hostile environment. If Hernandez falls flat, he will likely be grilled in the media for it.
According to 101greatgoals.com, the Brazilian prodigy has committed a Confederations Cup-high 13 fouls thus far:
Part of that can be attributed to an attacking, aggressive mindset, but it is something that Neymar must look out for in the future. Should he not exercise more caution, he could find himself getting carded.
That would be devastating to the hosting nation's hopes of hoisting the trophy in the final this coming Sunday—much less for Brazil's chances to knock off Uruguay.
Neymar is only 21, but bears the weight of lofty expectations in this precursor to the World Cup, which will also be hosted in his native land.
Should the youngster pull through and give Brazil the Confederations Cup crown, it would be an encouraging sign of things to come for 2014's global spectacle. If it's a rather disappointing effort, though, the perception of Neymar could change quickly.
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