Friday, June 14, 2013
Confederations Cup Breakdown: Group A
It has finally arrived, the tournament that everyone has been waiting for... the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup! Okay, so it's a little anticlimactic with the bigger event right around the corner, but it'll be a fun distraction until we get there. Let's take a look at what the teams have to offer.
It's really not news, I am a Brazil fan. I will be cheering for the home team, unconditionally. They will frustrate me by pulling out unconvincing wins, hopefully to the finals, and beyond. Along with linking Brazil, I truly dislike Mexico. They have been a thorn in the sides of both of my beloved national teams for years and I hope losing this tournament causes a downward spiral that they will not recover from until after my lifetime.
At first glance, this team seems much weaker than previous squads. Stars in their prime like Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, and Rivaldo are all but a memory at this point. So Brazil will have to make due by putting the weight of the expectations of the host nation on the 21 year old shoulders of their "brightest" star.
Neymar has not proven he is capable of taking over a game for the Seleção yet. He is a highlight reel waiting to happen, unfortunately those rarely come in a yellow jersey. For Brazil to win the cup, he will seriously have to step up his game.
Surprisingly, Brazil's strength at the moment is their defense. The two fullbacks, Daniel Alves and Marcelo, where honored in the FIFA Best XI of 2012. David Luiz, whom I have always thought of as the "poor man's Lucio", has had a solid year for Chelsea defensively, while also scoring spectacular goals. Captain Thiago Silva is quietly one of the best center backs in the world. He plays in France, which alone adds a certain anonymity, for a PSG team featuring the everyone's favorite gargantuan Swede who gathers all the attention.
Striker. Plain and simple. Fred scores goals, he always has, but he never inspires confidence in his play. He seems to work hard and find himself in the right place at the right time. Fred is certainly no Ronaldo, not even Bebeto. When Leandro Damião withdrew from the squad with injury, the underwhelming Jo was called up to replace him. Upon hearing this, and watching his cameo against France, I racked by brain to think of anyone I would rather have on the team. Sadly, the only two names I could even consider (Luis Fabiano and Pato) have done nothing to merit a spot on this team, either.
Player to Watch:
Chelsea's Oscar. He has been one of the most consistent players for the team over the last few months. As Neymar putters around with all his flash and lack of substance, Oscar will be relied on to lead the attack.
Home field advantage inspires Brazil to make it to the finals of the tournament, but they fall short.
The first country to qualify for the 2014 World Cup will be the host's opponent in the opening match of the Confederations Cup. Japan has some real quality in their squad, with many of their players plying their trade on some of the top club teams in Europe.
Japanese soccer is very similar to that of the Americans. Ambitious, growing, but still with a lot of work to do. They have invested heavily in the sport, and it shows. Consider the fact that the first World Cup they ever qualified for was in 1998! Fifteen years later, they are an established powerhouse in the AFC. After their women's team won the 2011 World Cup, look for the men to match the feat in our lifetime.
The two attacking midfielders will be a handful for any team in the tournament. Manchester United's Shinji Kagawa and CSKA Moscow's Keisuke Honda are world class. The fullbacks will be on display, as well. Inter Milan's Yuto Nagamoto and Atsuto Uchida of Schalke 04 have experience playing top-level football.
The fact that they play in Asia. If the USMNT played their final qualifying round against the likes of Oman, Jordan, and Iraq, I would breathe a little easier.
Player to Watch:
Kagawa wasn't exactly the second coming of Park Ji-Sung (I know Park is Korean, but let's be honest... everyone was thinking it) in his first season with United, but he was The Man at Dortmund, and he will be The Man for Japan.
Japan will push for a Semi-Final berth. Whether, or not, they achieve it will depend on how Italy does.
Unconvincing in CONCACAF qualifying, Jose Manuel De La Torre's side will look to use the Confederations Cup as inspiration to get back to Brazil in 2014, and perhaps save his job. The North American "Giants" have had a poor run of form lately, and De La Torre has been on the hot seat.
Since winning the Olympics last year (by holding firm after a very early goal), and the 2011 Gold Cup, Mexico has not lived up to their own standards. They were recently held scoreless by Costa Rica and Panama, and squeezing past Jamaica 1 - 0 in their last three matches.
Mexico is one of the most experienced teams in the tournament. Names like Salcido, Torrado, Dos Santos, and Hernandez have been around the block. While it may be the first Confederations Cup for most, if not all of them, they are used to the big stage.
Mexico often seems to suffer from a combination of overconfidence and an inferiority complex. The have always been the big fish in a small pond, but put them on an intercontinental stage and they flounder.
Fun fact: No nation has lost more World Cup matches than Mexico.
Player to Watch:
Gio Dos Santos for three reasons:
1. Despite being just 24 years old, he has racked up 64 caps for Mexico. He dominates matches when on the field for El Tri.
2. His father is Brazilian.
3. He has recently been linked with a move to the LA Galaxy. Inside sources *cough*Shep*couch* tell me this move almost happened once before.
Mexico puts up a good fight in each of their matches, but the group proves to be too tough and they bow out in last place.
Italy is one of the most frustrating teams to predict. Whenever I believe they are contenders, they crash out (See: 2009 Confederations Cup). Conversely, when I think they do not have what it takes, the Italians prove me wrong (See: 2006 World Cup, 2012 Euros).
This team is different than it has been over the past ten years. The big names are gone, replaced by up-and-comers, and local talent in a weakening domestic league. Do they have what it takes? Not even gonna try to lean one way or the other.
They're the Italians. Expect to see a disciplined defense. Considering the fact that four of their back five likely starters (Buffon, Chiellini, Barzagli, and Bonucci) play for Juventus, the chemistry should be strong and tough to crack.
Mario Balotelli. You may say: Phil, he's one of their best players! How is he a weakness? And my response is just that. He is a good player, he knows it, and he is a liability because of it. His ego is too big for this team, or any team. Expect to see a goal, followed by a red card at some point.
Player to Watch:
How could it be anyone but Balotelli? What sorts of shenanigans will he pull? Will he, in fact, be the reason the Italians implode?
I want to stay away from making a prediction, but I will say this: the Azzurri are the masters of their domain. If early results against Mexico and Japan do not come, it's their own fault.