The FIFA Confederations Cup starting on the 17th of this month is the perfect dress rehearsal—as that’s exactly what it is—for next year’s World Cup.
It’s an opportunity for the watching public to get acquainted with seven sides who are expected to make their way to next summer’s showpiece event and also Tahiti, a football team who few know anything of, apart from the fact that they are the reigning OFC champions.
The tournament also offers a possibility for managers to tinker and players to nail their positions within their national setup or to even use the competition as a shop window for prospective new employers at club level.
All-in-all it will make for compulsive viewing and with that in mind, here’s a look at 10 stars to keep an eye on in the coming weeks:
With his career at Santos now locked in the drawer for safe keeping and his long-protracted move to Barcelona having been completed, this is the first major tournament for the 21 year old
Sure, he was there at the 2011 Copa America, but now the weight of a nation rests firmly on the slender shoulders of the 21-year-old and how he copes with such expectation now could well prove to be something of a prelude ahead of next summer’s tournament.
Talented with the ability to bamboozle defenders and goalkeepers alike, his career totals read 225 games, 136 goals for Santos and 33 games, 20 goals for Brazil.
Unquestionably, its an unbelievable and remarkable record for one so young. And yet there remain those who are yet to be convinced.
Therefore, this is a massive tournament for Neymar as he bids to prove that he can handle the expectation and can indeed deliver. A star in his homeland, he must now prove to the naysayers exactly why that is.
Vincent Enyeama (Nigeria)
The 30-year-old stopper has long been hailed as the best goalkeeper in Africa and he’ll have another opportunity to justify such claims in the Confederations Cup later this month.
With 79 caps to his name, dating back to 2002, the Maccabi Tel Aviv goalkeeper—currently on loan in Israel from French club Lille—has been a mainstay of the Nigerian national team for a considerable period of time now also.
Captain at this year’s Africa Cup of Nations—usual captain Joseph Yobo was limited to a mere substitute’s role under Stephen Keshi—Enyeama led the Super Eagles to a third continental crown, whilst also being selected as his continent’s finest in the team of the tournament.
At 5’11”, Enyeama is not the biggest ‘keeper at the tournament by any means, but he is amongst the most decisive.
Quick off his line and capable of fine reflex saves, Enyeama is a more than solid last line of defence for Keshi’s side. If Enyeama is at his best, Nigeria have a chance of reaching the semi-final stage.
Mario Balotelli (Italy)
The mercurial striker is currently in the midst of the most consistent goalscoring spell of his career so far, with 15 goals in his last 17 matches for club and country since his January transfer to AC Milan.
Entrusted with the No.9 spot by both Massimiliano Allegri and Cesare Prandelli, the 22-year-old is finally showing signs of increasing maturity, although controversy and the man dubbed “Super Mario” are seemingly never far apart,
Quick, strong, technically capable of brilliance and with a sharpshooter’s coolness when faced with the whites of a goalkeeper’s eyes, Balotelli is showing signs that he finally “gets it”.
Increasingly Balotelli is proving the difference in matches, producing more moments when his side most needs them. His performance in Italy’s friendly with Brazil back in March, and his wonderful equalising goal, a case in point.
Now the Rossoneri striker heads to Brazil as the focal point of Prandelli’s attack. Once more questions will be asked of his temperament on the biggest stage.
Much of Italy’s attacking hopes rest on his shoulders and, as always, it’ll certainly be interesting to see how he copes on the world stage once again
Andres Iniesta (Spain)
We’ve all seen the pictures already haven’t we? Those of Andres Iniesta at Euro 2012, surrounded by five opponents against Italy and then six against Croatia. The reason for it is quite simply because that’s how good he is.
Now 29, Iniesta has pretty much won everything there is to win. Three Champions League crowns, two European Championships and one World Cup—where he scored the winning goal and was named man of the match in the final—to name just three.
The Confederations Cup represents another opportunity for the brilliant midfielder to add another medal to his trophy cabinet.
The man who gives Spain the “X Factor”, capable of tiki-taka(ing) with the best but also able to effortlessly glide past defenders to open up an opposing defence.
It was no surprise that when Italy were taken apart 4-0 last summer in the Euro 2012 final, Iniesta left the field as man of the match. He is, to borrow a phrase, as “clutch” as they come.
“Iniesta does things that nobody else does. He is just incredible,” said Argentine playmaker extraordinaire Juan Roman Riquelme, speaking to Radio Marca last April. (via Goal)
He isn’t wrong. And it’s for that reason why a man with 80 international caps remains one of world football’s must-see stars
Luis Suarez (Uruguay)
With Uruguay struggling to keep their head above water in the fiercely-fought South American qualifying table ahead of next summer’s tournament, the Confederations Cup offers a key opportunity for la Celeste to find some much needed confidence and key to their hopes will be Liverpool striker Luis Suarez.
Whether you like or loathe the man for his behaviour and antics, you can’t deny that he is a glorious footballer.
A scheming centre-forward full of guile, tricks and tight turns, Suarez has turned into one of the Premier League’s biggest goal threats over the last 18 months and netted 30 times in 44 appearances (all competitions) for Liverpool last season.
For his country, Suarez is now the greatest hope.
Internacional forward Diego Forlan is now 34 and not the force he was when winning the Golden Ball at the 2010 World Cup, whilst Napoli striker Edinson Cavani remains painfully inconsistent on the international stage. Nicolas Lodeiro, the bright young playmaker, is still to fully convince either, likewise Gaston Ramirez.
Brilliant at the 2011 Copa America, Uruguay need Suarez at his best to challenge for success this summer.
Kenneth Omeruo (Nigeria)
A constant figure in the Nigeria side that won the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, 19-year-old defender Kenneth Omeruo currently appears for Eredivisie side ADO Den Haag on loan from Premier League giants Chelsea.
Tall, quick and strong, the centre-back partnered with Nigeria-based Godfrey Oboabona en-route to AFCON success as coach Stephen Keshi showed little respect for reputation to select the team he wanted. His gamble paid off.
Omeruo had played for Standard Liege in Belgium before being bought by the Blues in January 2012, and will hope that his performances in international colours have done enough to see him join the Chelsea first-team squad next season.
Able to also play at right-back, Omeruo has the natural attributes to become a top defender if he can continue to develop the finer points of his game. His handling of Didier Drogba at the Cup of Nations suggests there is much more to come.
Omeruo has, despite his relative inexperience, already earned himself both a big move and the trust of his national team manager—two impressive achievements.
He must now look to refine his game and reach the level that Chelsea will require of him.