By : Trini Andrew

The Tenth FIFA Confederations Cup will be held in Russia, from the 17th  June to 2nd  July 2017, as a precursor to the 2018 FIFA World Cup. This tournament which is held every four years is essential a cup winners cup selecting the winners of the  2014 FIFA World Cup,  2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup, 2015 AFC Asian Cup Final, 2015 Copa América Final, 2016 OFC Nations Cup Final, UEFA Euro 2016 Final, 2017 Africa Cup of Nations and the host of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The tournament participants are: Germany, Mexico, Australia, Chile, New Zealand, Portugal, Cameroon with Russia as the host.

The previous winner of the 2013 Confederations Cup(ConFed) was also the host nation, Brazil, which successfully defended their title for a second time with a convincing 3–0 win over Spain in a supremely entertaining final. This  tournament is viewed as a springboard towards the next world cup for the heavily favored teams, while the lesser ranked teams view it as a celebration of their past achievements.

The ConFed Cup differs from other soccer tournaments in that that are only 2 groups of four teams that engage in a round robin fashion then the two top group finishers are headed to the knockout rounds (the semi-finals). This means that the winners of the tournament will play only 5 games (3 in group play, the semi -final and final). With the World Cup, Euro Cup expanded to include more teams, it is refreshing to have a tournament that is so brief yet retains its quality.  Since Mexico (1999) is the only previous winner in the tournament, we can expect to see vigorous competition by teams eager to bring home this missing piece of silverware.  Let’s look at the prospects of the participating teams.

THE CONTENDERS

  • Russia

As the host nation, Russia is expected to field a strong, determined team to advance to the semi-finals. The majority of their players were selected from the top Russian club teams (CSKA Moscow, Locomotiv Moscow, Spartak Moscow and Zenit St Petersburg). What the Russian may lack in starpower is mitigated by their players’ familiarity with each other and the stadiums and near religious fervor in defending their national pride. They are an experienced side and we can expect to the middle of the field to be controlled by their defensive midfielder Denis Glushakov and attacking play from their wingers, Yuri Zhirkov and Aleksandr Samedov feeding crosses to their star striker Fyodor Smolov. Host nations typically overachieve in FIFA tournaments so I would not be surprised if Russia makes the finals.

  • Germany

Defending World Cup winners Germany would normally be the prohibitive favorites of any recent tournament. They have selected a very young team for the tournament with the majority of their players being under the age of 25. What the team lacks in experience they make up in pedigree with players selected from the top clubs in the world such as Juventus, Bayern Munich, Paris St Germain, Liverpool and Manchester City to name a few.  We can expect to see a sold backline led by Shkrodran Mustafi, solid goalkeeping from either Kevin Trapp or Marc-Andre Ter Stegen and explosive attacks from their forward Timo Werner, Julian Draxler and Leroy Sane. This team will score the most goals in the tournament as most teams with struggle to match their pace and direct lines of attack. These young players would be disappointed if they do not make the final as each player is ostensibly auditioning for a starting lineup place in next year’s world cup. Timo Werner is my personal favorite for the breakthrough player of the tournament.

  • Portugal

Portugal won their first major tournament the 2016 Euro Cup. Their previous best finish in any major competition was 3rd place in the 1966 World Cup. Buoyed by this success and the fact that the core of their squad is rapidly aging, they have selected their strongest possible side led by their captain Cristiano Ronaldo (no introduction needed) who is looking to cap off a perfect soccer year and strengthen his Ballon D’or credentials to which he is already the prohibitive favorite. Despite having over 30 year old core of Pepe(34),  Jose Fonte (33), Cristiano Ronaldo (32), Joao Mounitnho and Nani (30), their successors have been seamlessly integrated in the team. Defenders such Raphael Guerriero and Nelson Semedo (23), midfielders Bernado Silva (22), Andre Gomes (23) and striker Andre Silva (21) should be able to provide youthful tenacity and creative flair to provide balance. This team should easily advance to the finals with most of their players in top form.

  • Chile

I would be keen on Chile’s prospects of winning the entire tournament if it was held in 2016. They had a remarkable 2015 COPA America winning run, leading their group and winning tough games against Uruguay and then Argentina in the final to deny Lionel Messi his first major tournament victory. They then defended their title the following year in the COPA America Centenario once again beating Argentina in the finals. In both tournaments they boasted the top goalscorer, Eduardo Vargas, as well as the best goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, considered one of the top ten goalkeepers in the world at that time. Since then the form of their individual payers have fluctuated wildly (the less said about Claudio Bravo’s goalkeeping antics for Manchester City the better) and they have shown inconsistent effort in recent friendlies. This team still possesses elite talent such as Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, Eduardo Vargas and Claudio Bravo but it remains to be seen whether they can perform cohesively to advance to the finals. You will be hard pressed to find any team that presses as much as this one and they will get the majority of their goals from Sanchez, Vargas and Vidal. It remains to be seen whether they are able to recover after going down early in a game. They should be expected to make the semi-finals.

THE HOPEFULS 

  • Australia

The proverbial big fish in a small pond, the Socceroos are arguably successful due to their geographic location rather than the actual quality of their teams. In 2005 they the Asian Football Confederation  after leaving the Oceania Football Confederation. They are here by virtue of winning the 2015 Asia Cup beating football “powerhouses” Kuwait, Oman and then the United Arab Emirates in the final. Nearly the entire roster is in their mid-twenties spread across the world in mid level teams in England, Germany and China. We can expect to see a high work rate and the occasional flash of brilliance from their 37 year old star striker Tim Cahill. I would not be surprised to see them leave the tournament after three games with a negative goal difference.

  • Cameroon

Cameroon are here as champions of the 2107 African Cup of Nations which is curiously biannually held in January which takes the best players away for up to a month from their respective leagues. The 2017 AFCON was underwhelming and is it in some ways fitting that Cameroon won the tournament despite internal discord with players refusing to report and only scoring 7 goals in 6 games. Nevertheless, they are here and they while they possess a considerable amount of skill they lack the pedigree and technical nous, save for their star striker Vincent Aboubakar, to progress past the semi-finals. While their 21 year old goalkeeper, Fabrice Ondoa, has done an admirable job at the club level with Sevilla it remains to be seen how much the rest of the defense will be able to stop the attack of  opposing teams.

  • Mexico

The 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup winners Mexico are a strange team to gauge how good they are. They do boast quality players such as Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Hector Moreno, Andrés Guardado and Carlos Vela but the schedule of the tournament does them no favors. They start off against Portugal then play New Zealand before playing the third and final group match for the presumptive 2nd place against Russia. They will only be able to defeat Russia if their best player Chicharito, a classic poacher, can score against a rigid defense. HE will need to improve on his recent form for club where he slumped at Bayer Leverkusen after a brilliant first season and for country where he has only score two goals for Mexico this year.

  • New Zealand

New Zealand 2016 OFC Nations Cup winners will not win this tournament. There have been underdogs who have previously won soccer tournaments but this team is not one of them teams with a magical run in them. Quite simply, New Zealand does not score goals against none Oceanic opposition. Their best player, central defender Winston Reid, is currently injured and while their “star” striker Chris Wood is certainly capable of scoring goals it is unlikely that he can outscore the opposing titans of European football leagues. They are the quintessential “happy just to be here” team.

TOURNAMENT OUTCOME 

It’s not difficult to envision Portugal easily winning Group A with Russia edging Mexico due to goal difference.  Group B should be led by Germany with Chile easily coming in second.

The semi-finals pits Portugal vs Chile and Germany vs Russia.

Portugal vs Chile is a matchup of similarly offensive minded teams but the combined age, height and experience of the Portuguese defenders should enable them to coast to a relatively easy victory.

Germany vs Russia also pits two structurally sound defenses with the majority of the attack coming from the wings. The individual brilliance of the forward line for Germany and the experience of the head coach Joachim Low should be enough to see them through.

The final matchup of Germany vs Portugal should be thrilling but in the end the experience and resiliency of the Portuguese team should be enough for them to grab their second major tournament trophy. This tournament will be a high scoring affair with the elite forwards such as Alexis Sanchez,  Cristiano Ronaldo, Timo Werner and others looking to continue their goalscoring exploits from the recently concluded domestic seasons.

 

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