Confederations Cup group A preview

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Photo: Sergio Savarese

Well, here we find ourselves in the summer of a year before the World Cup, and we all know what that means… It’s everybody’s favourite international football tournament! That’s right, the Confederations Cup is back. In a vague effort to get everyone in the spirit of the competition (whatever that may be), here’s my preview to group A, with Brazil, Japan, Mexico and Italy, highlighting the best players in the sides, along with a few you might not know so well.

BRAZIL

Brazil haven’t played competitive football since the 2011 Copa América (assuming you don’t count the Olympics), and have plummeted down the world rankings since then. Barely ten years after winning the World Cup in such style, they’re in trouble, and are hoping that the festival of sport in the country over the coming years can revive them.

Best Player — The footballing world will be watching one man in this squad: Neymar. He has struggled to bring his scintillating domestic form onto the highest stage so far, can he do it this summer? With his transfer to Barcelona next season, he could silence a few critics early with a good performance on home soil.

One to Watch — Atletico Mineiro’s Bernard has only two caps for his country, but the tiny midfielder has had a fantastic season in Brazil and deserves his inclusion in the squad. He has amazing ball control, flair and he’s a ruthless finisher. Put him anywhere in the final third and he should do something special.

Prediction — Scolari has gone for a very young squad – Dani Alves is the oldest outfield player at just 30. I feel they will miss the experience that could have been brought by a veteran like Ronaldinho or Kaká. I can see them getting through the group, eventually losing in the semi-finals.

JAPAN

The Japanese struggled through the Asian Cup, needing penalties to defeat Korea and extra time to win against Australia. Recent results have been disappointing, and they have a tough draw for this summer. However, they have a strong group of players, and their experience could help them against relatively young opposition.

Best Player — CSKA’s Keisuke Honda impressed the footballing world in South Africa three years ago with his skill from dead-ball situations. The attacking midfielder can turn a match in an instant with one of his trademark free kicks, and will be tremendously important for Zaccheroni’s side.

One to Watch — Yuto Nagatomo is a full back who has become an important player for Inter in recent years. He forms part of one of the most established defences in the competition. Not only this, as Japan have an Italian manager (the only foreign manager in the tournament), the fact that Nagatomo plays in Italy will make him an important player for the boss.

Prediction — Despite a poor run recently, Japan should be capable of a decent performance in Brazil. Having said which, they have a difficult group and will most likely struggle to make it through. The positive that they can take is that they are only the second team to qualify (after Brazil) for the World Cup next year before the tournament even begins.

MEXICO

Mexico come to Brazil on the back of some encouraging results. After their consecutive Gold Cup wins, they have also won Olympic and Pan American gold medals, beating Brazil and Argentina in the finals. Although they disappointed in the Copa América, they come to Brazil as underdogs but contenders nevertheless.

Best Player — Since leaving Spurs in the summer, Giovani Dos Santos has had a brilliant season in Spain. His career looked to have stalled in England after showing such promise in the Barcelona youth teams, but his skilful style has always made him a potential game changer.

One to Watch — After impressing at the Olympics, Diego Reyes has begun to feature for the first team. The tall centre-half’s potential has already been spotted, and Portuguese champions Porto have already signed him up for next season.

Prediction — Mexico have a good record in recent years, but they’ve been handed a very difficult group. All four teams should be there or thereabouts in the end, but I can see Mexico just missing out on a place in the next round.

ITALY

Since their shock World Cup victory seven years ago, Italy have been something of an unknown in international competition. They’ve failed to make it past the group stage in two of their four tournaments since then, losing to Spain in the others. As with most Italian sides, Prandelli’s latest squad still features a great deal of experience, and all but one play their football in Italy.

Best Player — Based on consistency, I’m giving this to Andrea Pirlo. The veteran midfielder will look to make his hundredth international appearance in Brazil. He may be 34 but he’s shown no signs of slowing down yet, and still possesses the effortless quality that sets him out.

One to Watch — Stephan El Shaarawy has been making waves in Italy, scoring on average every other game this season. The Milan striker, known as “the Pharaoh” thanks to his Egyptian heritage, looks to cement his place as one of world football’s brightest young talents in Brazil.

Prediction — Italy bring a good mix of experience and youth. Their style of play should serve them well against the other sides in their group, but their inescapable unpredictability could be their downfall. I suspect they could make it as far as the final, only to lose to their perennial nemeses Spain.

For my preview to Group B, look here.

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