Your complete guide to the Confederations Cup including the players to watch

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

We take a look at this year's Confederations Cup and pick out who you should keep an eye on

WHAT IS THE CONFEDERATIONS CUP?

For those whose football addiction is not fixed by the European Under-21 Championship, there is another competition beginning on Saturday. The Confederations Cup is both an all-star tournament for the continental champions but also a dress-rehearsal for the following year’s World Cup.

With just eight teams and 16 matches over the course of a fortnight – like the European U21s – it is light and brisk enough to entertain anyone who has been watching football solidly through the 2011-12 season, Euro 2012, the Olympic games and the season just gone, and does not want the show to end. Enjoy this, and then see out the last painful few weeks before the pre-season friendlies start.

SO WHO IS GOING TO BE THERE?

Seven of the eight teams have qualified as champions of something, and the one that has not is Brazil, so the quality should be high. Four of the eight teams are in the top 20 of the Fifa rankings.

Group A is probably the stronger. Brazil qualify as hosts, and thought they are lingering at 22 in the rankings, with their talent and on home soil they are obviously going to be useful. Italy lost the Euro 2012 final but Spain had already qualified. Mexico, the sleeping giant of world football, won the 2011 Gold Cup while Japan won that year’s Asian Cup.

Group B might not be quite as tight. Spain, obviously, qualify as World Cup winners and are joined by Uruguay – 2011 Copa America winners, Nigeria – who won this year’s Africa Cup of Nations and surprise package Tahiti, 2012 OFC Nations Cup champions.

 

Click HERE or 'VIEW GALLERY' to launch our guide to the players to watch in Brazil

 

IS BRAZIL READY TO HOST IT?

This is an important test of the 2014 World Cup infrastructure. Brazil should be most of the way to full World Cup-readiness but it is not and the costs of building the stadiums for that tournament have risen from $2.5billion to $3.3b, amid a public outcry against Fifa regulations and disruption to Brazilian lives.

To ensure that everything goes to plan, the authorities have deployed thousands of troops to guard the six stadiums across Brazil that will be used this month. Drones and thermal cameras will also be used, such are the concerns over security, even if the 25,000 foreign spectators expected this month represents just five per cent of those expected at next year’s World Cup.

WILL ALL THE TEAMS BE THERE?

This, unfortunately, is not certain yet for Nigeria, after a dispute over bonuses. Their flight from Namibia to Brazil was scheduled for Thursday afternoon but the players refused to take it. The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) has tried to halve the team’s bonuses, and the players are not impressed. Winning the African Cup of Nations was quite expensive for the NFF and so backroom staff have also been reduced from 17 to nine – including the departure of popular coach Silvanus Okpala - amid fierce austerity measures.

But, after negotiations, they will apparently make the 7,000 kilometre journey on Saturday, allowing for just 48 hours of preparation before they face Tahiti in Belo Horizonte on Monday.

ARE BRAZIL CONFIDENT OF A REPEAT OF THEIR 2009 SUCCESS?

The mood in Brazil is not good. Last November Luiz Felipe Scolari was brought back as manager following Mano Menezes’ failures at the 2011 Copa America and the 2012 Olympics. But even Scolari, who turned around the side to win the 2002 World Cup, is not convincing in the role yet.

In the recent friendly draw with England, his withdrawal of Oscar – probably Brazil’s most consistent, dedicated player – was scorned by the Maracana crowd. Pele has this week had to weigh in on behalf of Scolari. “Let’s not boo the national team,” Pele implored. “We are still starting. We still have one year to go. This is just the kick-off.”

But, after the traumatic Olympic final defeat, success – or, at the very least, improvement – is required.

HOW WILL NEYMAR HANDLE THE PRESSURE?

Scolari may have to carry the criticism but the real pressure, this summer and next, is on Neymar. The 21-year-old is the vessel for the hopes of nearly 200 million football fans, and this will be his emotional good-bye to his homeland before he goes to play for Barcelona next season.

Even with Luis Suarez, Mario Balotelli and the rest there, Neymar is the banner man of the Confederations Cup. This is his chance to deliver the perfect parting gift to his homeland, and the fans are certainly expecting it. Neymarmania is a phenomenon itself, with the Santos forward plastered over adverts and posters nationwide. “The Seleção is too big for Neymar to carry alone, we have to help him,” Dani Alves said recently, but doing so will not be easy.

BUT ARE BRAZIL THE ONLY TEAM WHO WANT IT?

As greedy as it might sound, Spain are desperate to win this too. Having won the last two European Championships and, of course, the last World Cup, they need to complete the set. Vicente Del Bosque’s side went to the last tournament in 2009, but they lost their semi-final 2-0 to the United States. This year, the relentless trophy-machine wants more. So Del Bosque has taken his strongest possible squad with even players who have looked drained by their impossible schedules in the last year or so.

So the core of the treble-champion team is there – Xavi, Andres Iniesta, David Silva and so on. But, in case they get tired, the brilliant Juan Mata and Javi Martinez can freshen up the side too.

ARE THOSE THE ONLY CHALLENGERS?

Not quite. No European side has ever won a World Cup in the Americas, and so the challenge of Urugauy – 2010 World Cup semi-finalists and 2011 Copa America winners – should be serious. But they have had a terrible time of it since, despite their obscene firepower of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. Diego Forlan, though, is not quite the player that he once was, at 34 years old.

Uruguay’s battling 1-0 away win over Venezuela on Tuesday kept them in the hunt for World Cup 2014 qualification, but they will need a big improvement if they want automatic qualification rather than via play-off. They certainly have the talent to win an eight-team tournament, but whether they have the form and the confidence is less clear.

CAN ITALY GET THE BEST OUT OF MARIO BALOTELLI?

There is one man who would take issue with this being dubbed Neymar’s tournament. Mario Balotelli, the one player here who can come close to Neymar for talent, fame and thrilling unpredictability.

Balotelli is the focal point of Cesare Prandelli’s team. His famous double against Germany last summer fired Italy in the Euro 2012 final and they will need his best in Brazil – this summer and next – to be successful. He has been playing some of the best football of his career recently, with 13 goals in 14 games at Milan, but his childish reaction to dismissal in last week’s qualifier against Czech Republic shows he is not fully there yet.

“If there is a problem he has to remember that it has to be resolved by the group,” Prandelli said, reminding him of his obligations, and that his behaviour is indulged more than others.

 

Click HERE or 'VIEW GALLERY' to launch our guide to the players to watch in Brazil

News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Caption competition
Caption competition

Bleacher Report

Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport