It does seem like yesterday when Canada hosted the Women’s World Cup. It was the most attended and most viewed Women’s World Cup ever. I also had fun in seeing the exhibits and even a Round of 16 game.
Now it’s France’s turn to host the Women’s World Cup. The television audience is expected to be bigger, the crowds at the stadiums are expected to be bigger, and women’s football as a whole is expected to be bigger. Eighteen of the 24 teams at this year’s World Cup played in 2015 and four will be making their debut this year. Lots of excitement is expected to happen. As for hosting, France has nine stadiums set to contest the matches. All of them are over 20,000 capacity. Three of the stadiums contested matched during the 1998 World Cup and three during the 2016 Euro.
So without further ado, let’s focus on World Cup Group A. FIFA rankings of teams as of March 2019 are in brackets:
-France (4): France is a team waiting for their first ever major international moment. Their best Olympic finish is fourth in 2012, their best World Cup finish ever is fourth in 2011, and they’ve never made it past the quarterfinals of a Euro ever!
France appears ready to deliver a strong result here in WWC 2019. For their Group A teams, France has won against South Korea and Nigeria in the past, but never played Norway. France however has delivered some excellent results in recent months with wins against top-contending teams like Australia, USA, Japan, China and Brazil. Their only loss this year came to Germany. It looks like France is ready to show the world and this could finally be their chance!
-South Korea (14): South Korea is a team not to be underestimated. Sure, they’ve never qualified for an Olympics, but they did achieve a Round of 16 result at the last World Cup and they have had a third-place finish at the Women’s Asian Cup.
South Korea has had an uneven play records these past twelve months. They’ve endured losses to China, Australia and Sweden. However they’ve had wins against New Zealand, Argentina and Romania. Expectations are low for South Korea here, but don’t underestimate them. They could be one of the big surprises in France.
-Norway (12): Norway was one of the great teams when the Women’s World Cup was starting. They won the second WWC back in 1995 and the second-ever Olympic gold in women’s football back in 2000. Returning to their glory days has been a struggle. The last Olympics they competed in was in 2008. They have finished runner up in the 2013 Women’s Euro only to lose out in the Group Stage in 2017.
Norway has a record these past twelve months of ups and downs. The lost to Australia, Sweden, Japan and Canada, but they’ve also won against China, Scotland, Denmark and 2017 Euro winners The Netherlands. Norway even won this year’s Algarve Cup. Norway could just well be on their way to a comeback.
-Nigeria (38): Nigeria leads the pack in terms of African teams in women’s football. They’ve won the CAF Women’s Championship all but two times. Nigeria is searching for its first major international breakthrough. The best they ever did at a WWC was a quarterfinals finish 1999. Their best Olympic finish was the quarterfinals of 2004.
Nigeria has had a challenging year losing to Canada and China, but they’ve also had wins against Slovakia and Romania. Nigeria could be one team that can pull an upset.
MY GROUP PLAY PREDICTIONS:
France looks to be the top team of the group. They will qualify strongly. Norway looks to be the team to come in second. As for third, I’m thinking of going with Nigeria. This can be anybody’s to take.
And there’s my first take on the teams of the 2019 Women’s World Cup. There’s still more to come as we’re leading up.
The funniest thing about Group D is that Argentina and Nigeria are paired up again! Of the six times Nigeria has qualified for the World Cup, 1998 remains the only time they never had to face Argentina in the group stage! However it was Croatia that was with Argentina in that group stage. So much ridiculous trivia here! Actually one other legitimate piece of trivia is Group D features one of two teams making their World Cup debut. So for more on Group D, here I go:
-Argentina (5)- Argentina is one team at this year’s World Cup with the most accolades. Two World Cups, five World Cup finals appearances, fourteen Copa Americas, and legendary players like Mario Kempes, Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi. La Albiceleste however has garnered a reputation in the last few years of being a team of near-misses. They lost in the finals of the 2014 World Cup and four of the last five Copa America finals. This is especially biting for Lionel Messi. He’s had a career full of feats and achievements. However ever since he became part of the national team since 2005 at the age of 18, a major international trophy has been the one thing he’s never been able to win.
Argentina have been in struggle since the last World Cup. They’ve gone through three coaching changes and almost missed qualifying for the World Cup. It was nothing less than a win needed for their eighteenth-and-last qualifier match against Ecuador to get them in, and they did: 3-1. As for their World Cup chances, they look quite iffy. They have the talent with the likes of Messi, Javier Mascherano (who has more international caps than Messi), Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero. However they lack a strong defense. Their flaws have been exposed in the last two years upon losses to Spain 6-1 and Group D opponents Nigeria 4-2. However Argentina has delivered good wins like 1-0 against Russia, 1-0 against Brazil and 2-0 against Italy. World Cup 2018 is another test for the Argentinian team. Also Russia could be the place where Messi will either become the ‘best ever’ or the ‘best never.’
-Iceland (22)- Iceland is the team that keeps on surprising the world. Two years ago, they became the first team from a country with a population under 1 million to qualify for a European Championships, and they made it to the quarterfinals, beating England in the process! This time they become not only the first team from a country with a population under 1 million to qualify for a World Cup, but the first from a country under 500,000!
Iceland surprised everybody not just by qualifying for the World Cup, but topping their qualifying group in the process. Iceland proved the fire is still there after Euro 2016. However it appears the fire may have faded since the World Cup qualifying. Iceland’s only wins since have been against two Indonesian teams. They’ve since had to endure losses to Mexico, Peru, Norway and the Czech Republic. Chances are Icelandic fire can come back once they start play in Russia.
-Croatia (18)- Croatia is a team that has had a lot of hard luck over the past few years. There is less news copy about the playing prowess of the team and more copy about the team’s fans’ obnoxious behavior. And don’t get me started about the Euro 2016 game against the Czechs! Mind you, Vatreni is a team loaded with talent worth noticing.
The Blazers are coached by Zlatko Dalic who has come off of coaching mostly club teams in Croatia and the Arabian Peninsula. The team boasts of top players like midfielder Luka Modric, striker Mario Mandzukic and defenseman Vedran Corluka. Croatia has done well playing against European teams and even won against Mexico 1-0. However they’ve also lost to Peru 2-0 and Brazil 2-0 just recently. Croatia have what it takes to once again move to the knockout round and hopefully go far. World Cup 2018 could be the place where they’re finally back.
-Nigeria (47)- Nigeria may not be one of the three African teams that have gone as far as the quarterfinals at a World Cup. However the Super Eagles the only African team that has made it past the group stage in three World Cups. That’s a feat in itself along with three Africa Cup of Nations wins and four more Cup finals appearances.
The current team is coached by German Gernot Rohr who has been coaching African teams for the past eight years and features a wealth of talent young and old. Seven of the teams’ players play for teams in the Premier League. The team features forward Ahmed Musa (who plays for CSKA Moscow), midfielder John Obi Mikel and defenseman Elderson Echiejile. Sure, Russia 2018 may become the fifth time out of Nigeria’s six World Cup runs where they have to face Argentina in the group stage, but they have an advantage; they won in a friendly against the Argentines back in November: 4-2. However they’ve had some noticeable losses this year against Morocco 4-0, Serbia 2-0, and England 2-1. However they could all come together in Russia 2018 and go further than they ever had.
Now that I’m done summing up the teams, it’s time for me to predict the two I think will advance to the Round of 16. It’s a tough challenge, especially since all four have noticeable strengths and weaknesses, but I predict it will be Argentina and Nigeria. However don’t be surprised if it ends up the second qualifier is Iceland. Remember they beat Croatia in World Cup qualifying.
These past three reviews, I’ve reviewed two stadiums at once. I’ve already reviewed six out of the twelve so I’ll save my next double-review for Group H as I will review the stadiums staging the finals and semis. Save the best for last, right? So here’s my first solo stadium review for this World Cup:
VOLGOGRAD: Volgograd Arena
Year Opened: 2018
Capacity: 45, 568
World Cup Groups Hosting: A, D, G, H
Volgograd Arena may be one of the stadiums that’s brand-spanking new for Russia 2018, but it’s on familiar ground. The Arena’s ground is on what used to be the ground for Central Stadium which was opened back in 1962. It was the age of the stadium, FIFA demands and the ability to change capacities that led to the new Volgograd Arena. Its original expense was to be 10 billion Russian Rubles, but ended up being 17 billion Rubles, or $275 million US, in the end.
It has a unique shape where it’s shaped like an overhead truncated cone. The large roof, which rests over a cable frame, resembles a bicycle-wheel pattern through steel-wire cables. The stadium will have many features available to fans like navigation and information support, information, a storage room, and audio visual commentary for those with sight impairment. After the World Cup, the stadium is to be the host venue for local team FC Rotor Volgograd and host a fitness centre.
And there you have it again. Another World Cup group review. And another stadium review. More to come in the ten days leading up.
You’re probably wondering how do the berths at this World Cup get decided? Firstly, the number per continent is decided by FIFA. Often the continents with more berths have better prowess in women’s football. You’ll notice as North America and Asia have a bigger presence than at the men’s World Cup. So here’s the continental breakdown of the 24 berths at this year’s World Cup:
- Host Nation – 1
- North and Central America, Caribbean countries under CONCACAF- 3
- Europe or UEFA-Allied countries – 8
- Africa or CAF-allied countries – 3
- Asia or AFC-allied countries – 5
- South America or CONMEBOL-allied countries – 2
- Oceania countries under the OFC – 1
- CONCACAF/CONMEBOL playoff – 1
That’s how FIFA sets the Women’s World Cup for an even distribution among the continents. Now that it’s all explained, here’s the latest group in review. Funny thing is that it’s already being called a ‘group of death’ because of how all four teams have significant cred to themselves. Heck, what do three teams in the FIFA Top 10 tell you about this group? Without further ado, here’s my review, along with another stadium focus and a bonus where you can have a ball:
-United States (2): There’s no doubting the legacy the United States have in women’s football. While the men struggle to make it past the Round of 16, the U.S. excel like no other country having won two World Cups–they’ve never finished worse than third at a Women’s World Cup– and Olympic gold in four of the five Games women’s soccer has been contested. They’ve churned out legends of their sport in the past like Kristine Lilly, Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain and they continue to churn out current greats like Christie Rampone, Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo.
The U.S. may excel like no other country but they’re not invincible. 1999 is the last year the women have won a World Cup. Even play this past year has shown their imperfections as they’ve lost to Brazil and France and tied against China and Canada. They’re not even guaranteed to finish top of their group as they lost to Sweden in their last meeting with them March of last year. Remember that they lost to Sweden in the Group Stage of Germany 2011. Even though Coach Jillian Ellis is hoping to lead them to their first World Cup in sixteen years, she will acknowledge this will be a tough group. If they’re all together here in Canada, they can do it. They do have what it takes.
-Australia (10): You know how the men are called the ‘Socceroos?’ The women are called the ‘Matildas!’ Australia’s women have competed in all but the first World Cup. They had very good success under the OFC as they competed in two Olympics and even earned a 5th place finish in 2004. Switching from the OFC to the AFC have helped them in terms of World Cup play as they were able to qualify for the quarterfinals for the first time back in 2007 and win the Asian Cup in 2010.
Australia is looking for its first big breakthrough on the world stage. However it will have to come with a fight. They’ve been playing very well against Asian teams but have struggled against teams from outside the AFC such as a 3-0 loss to England back in March. Their group chances also look questionable as they’ve lost their most recent meetings against Sweden and the U.S. and they’ve never played Nigeria before. Whatever the situation, this World Cup could be either new glory for Australia or another learning experience for the future.
-Sweden (5): If there’s one team that can prevent the U.S. from finishing atop Group D, it’s Sweden. They beat the U.S. in their last meeting. They also have a reputation of their own to match. Sure, their best Olympic finish is fourth and sure, Germany has hoarded all but one of the Women’s Euros. However they have finished in the Top 3 at three World Cups including third in 2011 and they’ve had many second and third place finishes at the Women’s Euro.
They’ve had a good play record since the least World Cup but it has been imperfect. This year they’ve had wins against Germany, China and Norway but they’ve also had losses to Germany, Brazil and Switzerland. Whatever the situation, Canada will be another proving point for them. They could just emerge the winners if they play right each time.
-Nigeria (33): Nigeria is one of only seven teams that have competed at ever Women’s World Cup. Clinching the African berth is a cinch for them. Just as the men have possibly the most illustrious success among African football teams, the women are consistently tops of Africa too. They’ve won the CAF Women’s Championship all but twice. They’ve even made the quarterfinals of both a World Cup and an Olympic Games once before.
However Nigeria has the difficulty of being in the toughest group. Yes, they have a good reputation but this is a tight group and they know they will have to be very tough against the U.S. and Sweden because they’ve beaten Nigeria very often in the past. One advantage is that they’ve never played Australia so that game can be a proving point for them. Whatever happens in Canada, I’m sure it will be a benefit to the Nigerian team either as a plus to their reputation or as an opportunity to learn more.
MY PREDICTION: This is the hardest group to decide all the places. First and second will be a toughie. I’ll take a risk and predict Sweden to finish first and the U.S. to finish second. I expect third to go to Nigeria. Predicting third was a toughie too.
Year Opened: 2014
World Cup Capacity: 40,000
World Cup Groups Hosting: B,E,F
Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16, quarterfinals
Talk about name changes. The stadium was first named Frank Clair Stadium, then chanced to TD Place Stadium and will be known as Lansdowne Stadium due to FIFA’s orders.
The actual playing field dates back to the 1870’s. The first event stands were added in 1908. Lansdowne Park has gone through numerous ramps and revamps over time. It had played host to Ottawa’s CFL teams and college football teams as well as many concerts. However it wasn’t until September 2007 when the lower-south side was showing cracks in the concrete that it was clear a new stadium was needed. Unfortunately it could not be done until there were plans to return a CFL team to Ottawa; Ottawa lost their CFL team in 2005. An agreement was reached in 2008 to have a new CFL team for Ottawa once a new stadium was created. The ‘Design Lansdowne’ program was launched to construct a new stadium over Lansdowne Park. By July 2014, the stadium was completed and Ottawa was ready to welcome their new CFL team, the RedBlacks, in July. The new stadium is also home to Ottawa’s NASL team Ottawa Fury.
We see it every men’s World Cup. Adidas doesn’t just simply launch a ball specific to the World Cup for the sake of a nice design. It does so with the hopes of adding a new technological innovation to the football. You don’t hear of the football for the Women’s World Cup adding an innovation to the football. However it will be the case for the Conext15.
The Conext15 features a new design inspired by the three elements of nature: earth, wind and fire. The flowing green, red and blue design will reflect the perfect balance of the three natural forces. It will include many elements from the Brazuca, the ball from the 2014 World Cup, but will have an innovation of its own: designed for never-before-seen power, swerve and control. Its structural innovation is a unique symmetry of six identical panels alongside a different surface structure that provides improved grip, touch, stability and aerodynamics on the pitch. Guaranteed to be more player-friendly than the Jabulani of 2010, that’s for sure.
And there you go. My review of Group D and many more WWC bonuses. Just ten days to go and two more groups to review.
Byrne, Bryan. “Official WWC Match Ball Released – Adidias Conext15” Soccer Cleats 101. 5 December 2014<http://www.soccercleats101.com/2014/12/05/official-wwc-match-ball-released-adidas-conext15/>
Group F is one group that has one country almost guaranteed to come out on top. However the second team to move on could be any of the other three. I guess Group F is a ‘Group Of Death’ in that sense. Here’s my rundown of the Group F teams:
-Argentina (7)- Argentina is another country at the World Cup with a legacy. This is their sixteenth World Cup. They’ve made it to the finals four times and won twice. Argentina has always been seen as a real threat in football these past few decades with a well-known aggressive play. They’ve been churning out great after great with Mario Kempes, Diego Maradona, Gabriel Batistuta, Carlos Teves and most recently Lionel Messi. However they do have their glitches. For starters, they have not made it past the quarterfinals since 1990. With Maradona coaching, it looked like 2010 would be the year they’d break their bad luck. They almost did as they were brilliant in group play and in their Round of 16 match against Mexico but were halted by Germany 4-0. Getting knocked out in the quarterfinals at the 2011 Copa America didn’t help either. However the team made considerable improvement with the addition of Alejandra Sabella as coach. Since then their only losses came to South American teams like Brazil, Venezuela and Uruguay, teams they would eventually beat in another recent game. On top of that, Argentina never lost to a European team under Sabella’s coaching. No doubt they have the talent to win. Many predict them to be finalists in Brazil at least. It’s just a matter of them delivering.
-Bosnia-Hercegovina (25)- It’s very common for an athlete or a sports team to lift the spirits of a troubled nation. Bosnia-Hercegovina is a nation still recovering from its brutal civil war from 1992 to 1995. However at last year’s World Cup qualifying, Bosnia’s team gave the people something to cheer about. Also people on the streets could talk about something other than the war. The team was brilliant in qualifying play winning eight games, drawing one and losing one. They scored 30 goals and only conceded six. You can credit this to the guidance of coach Safet Susic and the play of Manchester City’s Edin Dzeko. They were impressive in World Cup qualifying play and they’ve had varied results in friendly play with wins against Mexico and the Ivory Coast but 2-0 losses to Egypt and Argentina. The World Cup is a chance for Bosnia to grow as a team. They’re the only team in Brazil competing in their first World Cup. They pretty much have nothing to lose and everything else to gain.
-Iran (37)- Iran comes to their fourth World Cup here in Brazil hoping for a breakthrough. They’ve won the Asian Cup three times from 1968 to 1976 but have never been able to advance past the Group Stage at the World Cup in their three previous appearances: 1978, 1998 and 2006. The current team is coached by Carlos Queiroz who managed Portugal at the 2010 World Cup. Top player is Charlton Athletics forward Reza ‘Gucci’ Ghoochannejhad who did most of the scoring in World Cup qualifying. They have been able to show their prowess well by beating South Korea, who is traditionally Asia’s strongest team, twice. Most of their friendly play has been so-so as they’ve drawn three of their four matches, only losing to Guinea 2-1. 2014 looks like a great chance for Iran to have the World Cup breakthrough they’ve been waiting for.
-Nigeria (44)- Nigeria had its best days in the 1990’s when it made it to the Round of 16 in two World Cups. They come to their fifth World Cup hoping to reclaim their greatness despite not having a lot expected upon them. They are the reigning African Cup of Nations holders from 2013. The team is led by Stephen Keshi who was part of Nigeria’s first ever World Cup team back in 1994. The team’s players come from a mix of players from European leagues and Nigeria’s national league. Some of their star players like John Obi Mikel, Victor Moses and Efe Ambrose play for the top teams like Chelsea and Celtic. Nigeria has performed well in friendly play, losing only to Mali and Ghana in penalty kicks. They’ve also has scoreless draws against Mexico and Greece and 2-2 draws against Scotland and Italy. 2014 could be a comeback for Nigeria.
Now my prediction for the two advancers: they only way I cannot see Argentina from being #1 in this group or failing to advance is if they’re too overconfident, but I highly doubt it. Second advancer will be Iran, though Bosnia-Hercegovina can have a case of beginner’s luck if they play as brilliant in Brazil as they did in qualifying.
-SALVADOR : Arena Fonte Nova
Year Opened: 2013
World Cup Capacity: 48,747
World Cup Groups Hosting: B, E, F, H
Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (H1 vs. G2) & a quarterfinal
Salvador was one of those cities that needed a new stadium. However its top reason wasn’t because of the luxury of hosting a World Cup but of a tragic disaster instead. The older Estadio Fonte Nova, built in 1951 and home to football club EC Bahia, was starting to show its wear. Then on November 25, 2007, a section of the stadium’s highest terrace collapsed during a game celebration. Seven people were killed and forty others were injured. The governor of Bahia was fast to act as the next day he closed the stadium and the day after ordered that the stadium be demolished and a new one be created. The stadium seats were all demolished with only the field being kept. A group of architects from Brunswick, Germany who helped redesign Hanover’s old stadium in time for the 2006 World Cup were put in charge of the redesign of the Fonte Nova including turning it from a stadium into an arena with a lightweight roof.
The new stadium was opened in April 2013 and even hosted some games of the Confederations Cup. In the months leading up to the World Cup, the stadium has had problems such as blind spots for some spectators as well as some puddles and excessive dust. In addition, the lightweight rood proved to be too lightweight as a section collapsed May 27, 2013 because of heavy rain. No one was injured. The organizers said they were aware of the problems. Whatever the situation, they had a whole year to get it right in time for the World Cup. The World Cup scene and the months thereafter will determine its effectiveness and functionality.
Not only will the stadium be home for FC Bahia but the surrounding area includes a panoramic restaurant, museum of football, car parks, shops, hotels and a concert hall.
And there you go. Another group and another stadium reviewed. Two more groups and three more stadiums to focus on.
So 2014 has the World Cup and 2012 had the Euro. I guess that means 2013 will be devoid of big-time international soccer excitement, right? Wrong! 2013 is the year of the Confederations Cup, an eight-team competition held in Brazil. It’s good and important for a lot of reasons.
A TOURNAMENT GROWS IN SIGNIFICANCE:
The Confederations Cup is more of an intercontinental competition than international. Six of the eight teams that are competing here have earned their berth by winning their respective continent’s confederation championship. The only exceptions being the World Cup winner and the host country. That’s how the Confederations Cup is contested.
The idea of having a soccer competition of the best of the continents was an idea that evolved over 21 years. Actually the first attempt at such a competition came not with the participation of FIFA. It came through the royal family of Saudi Arabia through a competition called the King Fahd Cup. The first King Fahd Cup was contested in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia over five days in October 1992 and consisted of Saudi Arabia, which was the Asian Cup holder at the time, CONCACAF Gold Cup winner USA, African Cup Of Nations holder Ivory Coast and South America’s Cop America holder Argentina who won the Cup. The King Fahd cup was contested once more in 1995 and expanded to six teams: five continental cup winners and host Saudi Arabia.
By 1997, FIFA became involved and the King Fahd Cup had been renamed the Confederations Cup. This is the turning point with the Cup being contested the year before the World Cup and with the competition consisting of the eight teams through the qualifying format that still exists today. There were however two exceptions as two second-place teams from their continent’s championships competed: Czech Republic because Euro winners Germany declined to participate and United Arab Emirates because the hosting Saudis had already qualified as hosts. This would also be a new standard for the Cup that if one of the continental cup holders already earned their berth as either host nation or World Cup holder, the runner-up team would be given the continent’s berth.
After the 1997 tournament, the Confederations Cup would be contested bi-annually and in a different country every year. The 2001 tournament featured a unique twist as the host countries were Japan and South Korea, the host of the following year’s World Cup. That would be the norm from now on in which the Cup held the year before the World Cup would be hosted by the World Cup host nation(s). Six of the stadiums that were to be for the World Cup the following year were the sites for the Confederations Cup.
The Confederations Cup would continue being a bi-annual competition. Germany, the host nation of the 2006 world Cup, would continue the tradition by hosting the 2005 Confederations Cup with five of the venues for the following year’s World Cup used for this event. Since 2005 in Germany, the Confederations Cup has become a quadrennial event and seen as a warm-up event for the following year’s World Cup. South Africa used it to prepare for their hosting of the World Cup and you can be sure Brazil will do the same here. Six venues that will participate in next year’s World Cup including the legendary Maracana stadium will stage this competition. You could say the Confederations Cup has really grown a lot in the last decade.
WITH THE WORLD CUP A YEAR AWAY…:
You can be sure with the Cup being contested, the media will be paying close attention to how prepared Brazil is for this event and how ready they will appear to look with the World Cup just a year away. Already the media has paid high attention to Brazil’s troubled preparations for the World Cup. FIFA and even local critics have complained of construction delays and cost overruns. Few infrastructure projects were completed and even the 3G network couldn’t work properly. Even the official musical instrument of the World Cup was a failure as fans of losing teams would throw it on the field. Only two of the six stadiums participating in the Confederations Cup were completed by December and two cities were almost axed from hosting. In fact delays have caused FIFA to make an exception in their pre-World Cup demand that the host country hold three major competitions.
It’s not to say it’s all bad. Tickets for the World Cup and the Confederations Cup were a success. Also a record number of volunteers for both the Confederations Cup and World Cup signed up. Even exports from Brazil look optimistic as Brazil anticipates to export $1 billion from this Cup. Brazil has openly vowed it will be ready for the World Cup and even FIFA believes they’re confident Brazil will be ready. There’s only one year to go.
TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:
Now enough talk about hosting the tournament. Let’s move onto the teams and see how well they stack up for this. All but two teams are winners of their respective country’s continental championship. The two exceptions are Brazil who qualifies as hosts and Italy which was runner-up at Euro but qualified since the winner Spain already qualified as World Cup winner. Here’s how they pare up group by group with their current FIFA ranking in brackets:
-Brazil (22)- You’d think a country like Brazil with a legacy and depth of talent would enter the competition as the favorites but it’s actually not the case. Brazil first surprised everybody at the 2010 World Cup with a quarterfinal loss to the Netherlands. They surprised soccer fans even more by being ousted in the quarterfinals of the 2011 Copa America. Brazil just wasn’t Brazil. Lately Brazil has been making some changes like bringing back coach Luis Felipe Scolari who helped coach Brazil to the 2002 World Cup. Their play has gotten better in a slowly but surely pace. They may have tied Italy 3-3 three months ago but just last week they won a friendly against France who has been traditionally considered Brazil’s ‘Achilles Heel.’ The Confederations Cup could be a turning point for Brazil and send a message how much their team has improved and how far they would have to go to win the World Cup. I’m sure the world will be watching.
-Italy (8)- If you remember last year’s Euro, you’d remember it for Italy’s comeback as much as for Spain’s win. Italy was a team that was direly in need of improving after the 2010 World Cup and their qualification for the finals shows how far they came. Their play in World Cup qualifying matches have also been excellent. However they’re not immune to choking as noticed in a 2-2 friendly against Haiti. Nevertheless this tournament can also send a strong message to Italy how their team looks en route to the World Cup.
-Mexico (17)- Mexico has always been considered the ‘sleeping giant’ of soccer. The team has always been loaded with talent and skill but they have yet to prove themselves in a big way at a major tournament. They may be the current CONCACAF Gold Cup holders but even now with World Cup qualifying for the CONCACAF they still find themselves third in the standings with the USA leading. This group being the ‘group of death’ in the Cup could also pose a challenge. Nevertheless Mexico could pull one of the big upsets of the tournament. We also shouldn’t forget Mexico won the gold medal in London. It’s a given in any tournament to never count Mexico out.
-Japan (32)- If there’s one continent that has grown the most in terms of soccer play in the last two decades, it has to be Asia. And Japan has to be one of its strongest examples of accelerated success. Nevertheless Japan finds itself in a tight situation here in the Cup against three teams known for their legacies and their consistency of play. But don’t count Japan out. They’re the first team to earn a World Cup 2014 berth on play by already leading their AFC qualifying group by a huge margin. Plus they’ve won three of their six matches in 2013. So if any team can most give the biggest surprise at the Cup, it’s Japan.
-Spain (1)- How about that? Spain has gone in five years from being ‘soccer’s greatest underachievers’ into the top team in the world. Two straight Euros and a World Cup. They sure have come out of their shell and they come to the Cup as the favorites to win. Heck they haven’t had a single loss not just in 2013 but 2012 too. They look to have an easy Group Stage play but play in the semis and possible finals could make things more challenging for Spain. Just because a team is #1 and undefeated for two years doesn’t mean their infallible. We shouldn’t forget they lost to the USA in the semis at 2009’s Confederations Cup. Here could be yet another achievement in Spain’s recent legacy or a sudden reminder of their own weaknesses. Only the next two weeks will tell.
-Uruguay (19)- Uruguay has to be the comeback story right now. It seemed as though Uruguay’s soccer legacy was a thing of the past. Their prowess from the 30’s to the 50’s captured the imagination of the world. However it was their fourth place finish at the 1970 World Cup that appeared to mark the end of Uruguay’s greatness. However recent years has seen Uruguay make a comeback with a fourth-place finish at the 2010 World Cup and the win of the 2011 Copa America. But before you can shout out that Uruguay was back in a big way, it hasn’t been completely easy. They currently stand fifth in the standings of World Cup qualifying play for the CONMEBOL. Nevertheless while their play against South American teams have been a bit of a struggle, their play against other international teams have been quite impressive. This tournament can also send a message to the Uruguayan team in terms of what they need to do to qualify for the World Cup.
-Nigeria (31)- Nigeria has always been one of the top African teams. They look impressive in world Cup qualifying right now. The big question is their international play. Not much is known and past international and World Cup play has not given to impressive results. One result that did send a strong message was a 2-2 tie against Mexico two weeks ago. Nigeria could prove to be a stronger team here than most experts think.
-Tahiti (138)- Usually the OFC Nations Cup goes to either Australia or New Zealand. Last year it went to little Tahiti! Tahiti has become the least populous nation ever to win a continental championship. Here at the Cup, Tahiti’s biggest victory is just simply qualifying. Not much is expected since all the other teams have stronger depth in talent and international experience. In fact Tahiti is the only team at the Cup that doesn’t have a chance in even qualifying for the World Cup as the Oceania contestant for a berth against a CONCACAF team is New Zealand. Nevertheless the Cup can be a valuable learning experience for Tahiti. They’ve had hardly any international experience outside of Oceania. Now’s their chance to experience play against some of the best teams in the World. Despite their meager chances of qualifying for further play, Tahiti is probably the only team at the Cup with nothing really to lose and everything else to gain.
So there’s my rundown of the eight teams for the Confederations Cup. I’m not going to hazard predictions until the Group play is done and the semifinal berths have been decided. In the meantime stay tuned to see who will win the 2013 Confederations Cup. And stay tuned to see how ready Brazil appears to be for hosting next year’s World Cup. Both should be interesting to see.