The Group stage of the Confederations Cup is beyond us, and the four remaining teams now approach the business end of the competition. The early stages of the contest brought a number of fascinating, engrossing clashes and football of the highest order.
There were also a series of outstanding performances from players across the spectrum of competing teams. This article profiles five of the players who have genuinely stood out from the rest during the tournament’s opening 12 fixtures.
Look for several of these players to make a sustained impact as four become one and the fate of this summer’s Confederations Cup is decided.
Heading into this tournament, the jury was still out on Neymar. Despite excelling in the Brazilian league, he had been fairly anonymous in Felipe Scolari’s friendly matches to date, and had yet to match the furor that accompanied his every touch in a Brazil shirt.
There was the fear that a move to Barcelona and the testing climes of a major European league would reveal Neymar as an overhyped show pony.
The critics are chattering a lot more quietly now, after a number of top class goals which have begun to validate the £48.6 million transfer fee.
While the youngster has continued to demonstrate a tendency to drift out of games, he has scored in every game, dazzling spectators with finishes of the highest quality.
Along with great talent, however, comes great expectation, and I am fascinated to see how Neymar copes with the ever-increasing demands placed upon him by Brazilian fans.
With a spectacular array of attacking talents and the confidence to employ them in the highest stages, few would bet against Neymar having a major say in the ultimate destination of the Confederations Cup this summer.
Barcelona fans ought to be very excited by what they are seeing.
The Tahitian winger may not be as high-profile as some of the other stars on this list, but he has certainly made a huge impression in his three matches to date.
The islanders’ opening clash against Nigeria was a sign of things to come; while the Pacific minnows performed desperately in defence, their attack was constantly threatening and offered a worrying outlet for the Super Eagles' defence.
While veteran Marama Vahirua was a constantly probing, menacing threat in the middle of the park, left winger Steevy Chong Hue was the true star of the show. Facing the sluggish Efe Ambrose, evidently more comfortable in a central position, Chong Hue demonstrated his willingness to run and attack at pace.
He was a constant thorn in the Nigerian defence and his twinkling toes suggested that a professional contract wouldn’t be too far away. Despite missing a fairly straightforward chance in this contest, Chong Hue stole the imagination, regardless of the crushing scoreline.
While some of his teammates will surely fade into obscurity following their summer in the sun, don’t be surprised to see Chong Hue crop up in a professional league sometime soon.
Oduamadi’s Confederations Cup may have lasted for less than three halves of football, but he demonstrated enough to suggest that he is going to be a fixture in Nigeria’s squad for a long time.
An inclusion into the squad following the Super Eagles’ Cup of Nations triumph, Oduamadi has wasted no time in forging a place for himself on the squad. Crucial performances in World Cup qualifiers have endeared him to Keshi and he has been one of the main beneficiaries from injuries to Emmanuel Emenike and Victor Moses.
While the Nigerian attack has stuttered and stumbled its way through the competition, leading to their exit after defeat against Spain and Uruguay, Oduamadi provided a clinical outlet. In contrast to the failings of Anthony Ujah and Ideye Brown, the forward scored an assured hat-trick against Tahiti.
The goals led to Milan vice president Adriano Galliani indicating that the Italian giants would look to incorporate their previously on-loan talent into the first team squad ahead of next season. Oduamadi may get to demonstrate his talents on an exalted stage in the near future.
Nnamdi Oduamadi’s injury may have been a major blow to Nigeria, but Mario Balotelli’s knock has come as a blow to the whole tournament.
The Italy forward was a devastating force in the early stages of the competition. At times, he just had that look in his eyes and appeared, once again, to relish the responsibility and demands that come with leading the line for the national side.
Along with Andrea Pirlo, he has driven the Azzuri forward, despite, at times, showing frustration at the capabilities of his teammates.
While the absence of Balo creates a range of problems for Italy in attacking positions, his departure may prove an ideal opportunity for his Milan teammate Stephan El Shaarawy to demonstrate his worth for the national side.
When Jordi Alba finally made the Spanish left-back berth his own, there was a sense that he was the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle. While Joan Capdevila filled the position manfully during Spain’s triumphs at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup, there was a sense that he never quite enjoyed the same genius as his teammates.
During Euro 2012, Alba became a full-fledged member of the first XI and didn’t miss a beat, performing as though he’d always been there. His goal in the final topped off a terrific tournament.
Thus far at the Confederations Cup, Alba has demonstrated his worth to La Roja. He provides the width and the zip, and he demonstrates a bit of vertical advance and incision when the midfield are preoccupied with their tiki taka.
Alba’s two goals against Nigeria were evidence of his impact. He was fortuitous for the first, with the ball taking some convenient ricochets, but his class was evident throughout. As Jason Pettigrove identified, Alba’s positional innovation is invaluable; he even cropped up as a centre-forward for his team’s final goal.
In the short term, El Enano will be vital as Spain aim to add the Confederations Cup to their creaking trophy cabinet. In the longer term, he may prove to be a valuable asset to the team as they eventually transition away from this glorious era.