The greatest show on earth begins in earnest next year as the World Cup 2014 comes to Brazilian shores, and the world’s footballing nations compete for the biggest prize in world soccer — the right to be called World Champions.
Yet before we get to the World Cup, we have the warm-up tournament to look forward to — namely, the Confederations Cup, which begins next month also in Brazil. Often referred to as the baby brother of the World Cup, the Confederations Cup is watched very closely by fans as it can be used as a gauge to see some of the best squads in the world and how they look set to play when the big tournament takes place in 2014.
Of the eight competing nations, four are already considered major players on the world stage, while two others would be considered up-and-coming teams with exciting potential. That’s what makes this tournament so engrossing as it’s not only competitive, but it’s also taken very seriously by the competing teams who will be looking to gain momentum before the World Cup.
Brazil need to be commended for their efforts in completing the stadiums in time for this tournament, as it was only last month that FIFA fired a warning at Brazil over stadium safety concerns. There’s no doubt that Brazil are ready for this tournament, so it should provide ample spectacle ahead of the World Cup and prove to be a template for how things will look next year.
Without a doubt, Spain will be the favorites to lift the Confederations Cup. Yet, with the majority of their team playing for Real Madrid or Barcelona, there is feeling that many of these players have suffered psychologically after their respective Champions League failures and may struggle in a team tournament environment.
Brazil are also firmly in the favorites bracket thanks to their young, vibrant squad being hailed as a triumph of samba flair going forward, but they are possibly lacking that secure spine of experienced players. Brazil have home field advantage yes, but as their team will no doubt still be in transition during the Confederations Cup, I feel victory in this tournament will be too much to ask too soon.
Italy is my pick for this tournament partly due to their excellent mixture of youth and experience and the fact that the team remains largely unchanged from Euro 2012, where Italy finished runners-up to Spain. Cesar Prandelli has everyone he wants fit and have no major injury concerns, with the only shock omission being Giampaolo Pazzini, who has rippled the net 15 times this year.
Italy has the experience of performing on the world stage, and I’m backing the Azzurri to win this trophy reasonably comfortably.
Uruguay has fallen down the world pecking order recently mainly due to a series of shockingly poor World Cup qualifying performances where they have struggled against so-called lesser opposition. Uruguay has a stellar front line and some very creative players, yet they struggle in defense and have done so for some time now.
If Oscar Tabarez picks Diego Godin and Diego Lugano, you can pretty much guarantee Uruguay won’t reach the knockout rounds.
Japan and Mexico are the two aforementioned up-and-coming teams capable of a potential upset or two. Neither team are likely to win the tournament, but both have some technically gifted players alongside no real pressure to perform.
Other teams under little pressure and not expected to progress too far are Nigeria and Tahiti. Nigeria could produce the odd convincing display against Uruguay or Tahiti, but Spain and the other superpowers will prove to be too strong for them. Tahiti, it must be said, will do well not to get trounced too often.
It will be definitely be a loud, colorful, vibrant soccer extravaganza that will be the perfect warm up to next years World Cup. Roll on June!