The FIFA Confederations Cup kicks off in Brazil on Saturday, as organisers and the teams involved get geared up for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
The hosts, Brazil, will be aiming to retain their trophy for the third consecutive time following final victories against United States (2009) and Argentina (2005). However, form has dipped in recent years, blamed in some quarters by a lack of competitive fixtures due to their automatic spot in the World Cup. This was typified last week when they found themselves 22nd in the FIFA rankings, their lowest spot ever. They may draw confidence from their 3-0 warm-up victory over France, though, as they begin the tournament against Japan on Saturday.
Italy earned qualification for the event as UEFA Euro 2012 runners-up after Spain won both the 2010 World Cup and the Championship in Poland and Ukraine. They kick off their tournament against Mexico on Sunday, following a shock 2-2 draw with Haiti in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday which left head coach Cesare Prandelli red faced. They had only flown in to Brazil one day before the fixture, so they will hope jet-lag does not play a part when they get started on the weekend.
Japan enter their fifth Confederations Cup on a high after becoming the first team to secure qualification for the 2014 World Cup. Their promising form has continued as they beat Iraq 1-0 in their final qualifying match on Tuesday with Yasuhito Endo scoring his first goal of his campaign. They will be looking to improve on their best placed finish of runners-up, which they achieved in 2001, when they lost out to France in the final on home soil.
Mexico will begin their tournament against Italy on Sunday. The last time the two sides met was in 2010 when the North Americans beat their opponents for the first time in history, so no doubt that may remain in the minds of some players. Mexico also won the Confederations Cup in 1999 as hosts after they overcame Brazil 4-3. They come into their first fixture on the back of 0-0 draw against Costa Rica on Tuesday.
Nigeria have only conceded one goal in their Confederations Cup history which was scored by Mexico’s Ramon Ramirez, and they remain only one of two unbeaten teams in the tournament’s history. Their recent form is fairly promising after they drew with Namibia 1-1 on Wednesday and beat Kenya 1-0 on June 5 in their World Cup qualifiers. Their best-placed finish came in 1995 when the competition was known as the King Fahd Cup, ending up fourth.
Spain are the bookies’ favourites, along with Brazil, for the cup after qualifying as both the World Cup and Euro 2012 champions. They begin their second Confederations Cup run against Uruguay on Sunday, after beating the Republic of Ireland 2-1 and Haiti 2-0 in their preparations. They finished their first campaign in the tournament in third place four years ago after a shock semi-final defeat to the United States.
Tahiti qualified for the tournament after winning their first OFC Nations Cup in 2012. In doing so, they will become just the third team to represent Oceania in the Confederations Cup. The only professional in their squad who is striker Marama Vahirua, the 33-year-old former France Under-21 international is set to make his debut in the tournament. The Tahiti squad also incredibly features four members of the same family, the Tehaus. Twins Lorenzo and Alvin, their brother Jonathan and cousin Teaonui could even all line up in the same midfield if coach Eddy Etaeta so chooses.
Uruguay booked their place in the tournament after winning a record 15th Copa America title, which was also their first for 16 years in 2011. They have only featured in the tournament once, in 1997, where they finished fourth but after also making the World Cup semi-finals in 2010, they will be a very strong contender. They come into the tournament on the back of a World Cup qualifying victory against Venezuela and a friendly win 1-0 over France.
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