World Cup 2022 Preview: Group H

With this being the last World Cup group to talk about, I want to talk a bit about the next World Cup. World Cup 2026 will be unique because of two things. First, it will be the first World Cup that will have the hosting participation of three nations. The United States, Canada and Mexico all came together for a “United” bid for this World Cup. Secondly, because it will consist of a total of 48 teams! The point of the 48-team World Cup is to give better chances for teams from Africa, Asia, the CONCACAF and Oceania. There are many people who feel a 48-team tournament is too big. Many fear the inclusion of a three-team group stage. The most recent word from FIFA is an unofficial word of there being twelve groups of four.

So it is very possible this will be the last World Cup where Group H is the last group. Whether it is or not, here’s my review of the Group H of the 2022 World Cup:

-Portugal (9): It’s safe to assume this will be Cristiano Ronaldo’s fifth and last World Cup. He’s 37. Nevertheless, the whole team of Portugal has proven itself to be one of the best football teams of this century. They’ve participated in all six World Cups this century, had a fourth-place finish, was a finalist for Euro 2004 and won Euro 2016. Recent play has shown Portugal to be in a struggle. They were ousted in the Round of 16 of Euro 2020 and they qualified for the World Cup, but under the playoff system rather than top of their group.

The Navigators are coached by Fernando Santos who started coaching the team shortly after the 2014 World Cup. Most of their World Cup team plays for teams in the Premier League. Besides Ronaldo, Portugal has many other lauded players like Pepe, Rui Patricio and Bernardo Silva. Recent play has them with wins against Czechia, North Macedonia and Turkey. They had a recent draw against Ireland. In Nations League play, they’ve had a win and a loss to Switzerland and a draw and a loss to Spain. Qatar is the stage for Portugal to chase the World Cup one more time.

-Ghana (61): Interesting that all three African teams that once made it to a World Cup quarterfinal will all be here in Qatar. Ghana was the team with all the magic a decade ago, but it seems like their magic that the world witnessed at the 2010 World Cup has eluded them in recent years. They failed to qualify for Russia 2018. They were also out in the Round of 16 in the 2019 African Cup and in the group stage of the 2021 Cup.

The Black Stars are currently coached by German-born Otto Addo who played for Ghana in their first World Cup appearance in 2006. The team plays for a wide variety of clubs in leagues around the world. The most lauded players on the team are the Ayew brothers: Jordan and Andre. Recent play shows a mixed bag of results. They’ve won to Nicaragua and Madagascar, draws against Chile and Nigeria, and losses to Japan, Brazil and Qatar. Qatar is the scene for Ghana to prove itself. They could go better than most people expect.

-Uruguay (14): This decade has been very good for Uruguay. The first World Cup winners have done a good job in proving they’re also a present force to be reckoned with. In fact five of their ten most capped players are part of the present national team as well as their two top goalscorers ever. The last three World Cups have shown impressive results where they’ve made it to the knockout round each time and even got as far as fourth in 2010. However in the two most recent Copa Americas, they’ve bowed out in the quarterfinals.

Although much of the team’s rebuilding in the past 15 years can be attributed to coach Oscar Tabarez, the coaching of the team was handed to Uruguayan Diego Alonso, coach of the Inter Miami CF of the MLS, less than a year ago. Luis Suarez is back, but he’s not the team captain. Defender Diego Godin is. Also part of the squad is goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, defender Martin Caceres and striker Edinson Cavani. Recent wins include Canada, Mexico and Chile. They’ve also endured a draw against the United States and losses to Bolivia, Argentina and Iran. The stage is set in Qatar for La Celeste to prove they’re as much about now as they’re about their past legacy.

-South Korea (28): South Korea has proven itself to be the best Asian team. This is the tenth straight World Cup they’ve qualified for, and they did it in convincing fashion winning twelve of their sixteen games. Recently, they’ve had struggles in intercontinental play. They’ve bowed out in the group stage of the last two World Cups and they finished in the quarterfinals of the most recent AFC Asian Cup.

The current squad of the Taegeuk warriors are coached by a predominantly Portuguese coaching staff with Paulo Bento, who played in the 2002 World Cup, as head coach. This should make their December 2nd match against Portugal very interesting! The World Cup squad has some players who play for European clubs, including captain Son Heung-min who plays for Tottenham Hotspur, but most of the squad play for clubs in Korea’s K-League 1. Recent play includes wins against Egypt, Iran and Cameroon. They’ve endured recent draws against Paraguay and Costa Rica, and had recent losses to Brazil, japan and the United Arab Emirates. Qatar 2022 is an opportunity for Korea Republic to prove they are Asia’s top threat.

My Prediction: And this is it. My last prediction for the two qualifiers of the last World Cup group of 2022. I will have to say it will be Portugal and Uruguay. Best chance for an upset looks to be South Korea.

And there you go. That’s it for my reviews of the eight groups of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. I’m planning one last blog, and that’s of extra tidbits and social media hashtags for your favorite teams. Stay toond!

World Cup 2018 Preview: Group A

It’s a given. Whenever there’s a Euro or a World Cup, I do a rundown of the teams that will be competing. Those of you who remember I did it for the 2014 World Cup, I’m back. As I did for 2014, I will again do a separate blog for each of the eight Group Stage groups. Once again, I will give a preview of the twelve stadiums that will be the stages for this event and save the stadium for the Grand Final for last. Now let’s start with Group A. For the record, my summary of the teams will be done in their drawn World Cup order rather than their FIFA ranking of May 2018. FIFA ranking of that month will appear in brackets.

GROUP A:

Russia Fixed-Russia (66)- Russia had its glory days on the World Cup scene back during the days of the USSR. Since the USSR dissolved in 1992, Russia has qualified for three World Cups but always ended its trip in the group stage. It’s been a frustration. They went through two top ranked Dutch coaches Guss Hiddink and Dick Advocaat and Italian coach Fabio Capello, but would always come up short. Just before Euro 2016, they went back to a Russian coach, Leonid Slutsky, but again fell out in the group stage. Since Euro 2016, they’ve stuck to having a Russian coach. This time it’s Stanislav Cherchesov whose managed Dynamo Moscow and Legia Warsaw in the past.

The Russian team still remain an enigma. Only three of the team’s players play for teams outside Russia. Their recent game results also come into question. They’ve played six games since the Confederations Cup, but only won one: against South Korea 4-2. They’ve since had to deal with losses to big-name teams like Argentina, Brazil and France. The world Cup draw is made so that the host nation doesn’t have that hard of a time to make it past the group stage. Russia’s chances look comfortable as Uruguay appears to be its only tough rival. How far Russia goes is up for the world to see.

Saudi flag-Saudi Arabia (67)- The Saudi team looked like it was heading to better times after they made it past the Round of 16 at World Cup 1994. However the big reluctance to export players to the bigger European clubs has always proved to be the biggest obstacle. The Saudi team would face an exit at the Group Stage during the next three World Cups.

Russia 2018 marks the first World Cup since 2006 with the presence of the Saudi team. All but three of their team members play for Saudi teams. The other three play for La Liga teams from Spain. As for play, Saudi Arabia does not have a very consistent record for the past year. Their biggest win this past year came through Greece. However they’ve also had to endure losses to Belgium, Iraq and Portugal. However anything’s possible in football and the Saudi’s could surprise in Russia.

Egypt-Egypt (46)- This is only the second time Egypt has been to the World Cup. The only other time is in 1990. However Egypt is ready to play well. They’ve hired Argentine coach Hector Cuper to coach the team. The team’s players play for various team in Egypt, Europe and the US. However many consider the heart and soul of the team to be led by 26 year-old Mohamed Salah who as a striker for Liverpool won 2017 CAF footballer of the year. Many see Salah as an emerging great and could boost team Egypt in the future.

Their record leading up to World Cup 2018 is very much in question. Their only wins this past year have come against African teams. Their last win against a team from outside Africa was Bosnia-Hercegovina back in 2014. This year they’ve faced losses to Portugal and Greece. Russia is another proving point for ‘The Pharoahs.’ They may be out in the group stage or they may surprise everyone.

Uruguay-Uruguay (17)- This is the team from Group A that has the most clout. For a long time, Uruguay was seen as a team that was a blast from the past. Their biggest glory days came with World Cup wins in 1930 and 1950 and Olympic gold medals in 1924 and 1928. However a resurgence of Uruguay on the world scene starting with World Cup 2010 has catapulted the team back to the top of the world elite. It started with Diego Forlan and has now transferred to Luis Suarez. Uruguay’s stint at the 2014 ended in disgrace after Suarez was banned from nine games following a biting incident on an Italian player. And to think Chewy Louie was the player that infamously blocked a potential goal from Ghana at 2010.

Since the incident, Suarez has kept his promise of not ever biting another opponent. He has matured a lot as a player since and serves as Uruguay’s top star. However Uruguay is not just Suarez. The team also boasts another top striker in Edinson Cavani, midfielder Cristian Rodriguez and top defencemen Diego Godin and Maxi Pereira. Uruguay can prove themselves to be a top force to be reckoned with here in Russia.

So there’s my review of the first World Cup group. As for predictions, I’ll just settle for predicting the two countries that will advance past the Group Stage right now, and I predict it will be Russia and Uruguay.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

Once again, I get to focus on the various stadia that are hosting the World Cup. I figure the arenas are worth talking about. Russia will have has twelve stadia that will facilitate for the World Cup including two in Moscow. Only three are older than ten years old. All are situated in the European cluster of Russia. Just like Brazil in 2014, Russia all twelve of the stadiums will hold four Group Stage matches but they will be matches for four different groups. Also just like in Brazil 2014, all six of the Group Stage games for each individual group will again be played in six different stadiums, and not all will be that close by. Once again, a lot of traveling around for the 32 teams in a huge cluster of a country. One of which, they will have to cross the border of Lithuania to play in.

It’s confusing, but no less confusing than Brazil 2014. Here I’ll give you my first taste of my Stadium Spotlight of 2018. Note that each stadium I show in my Stadium Spotlight feature will be a stadium that will contest Group Stage matches for each respective group. These two I will focus on will host Group Stage matches in Group A. So without further ado, here are the two stadiums in focus:

-YEKATERINBURG: Central Stadiumyekaterinburg-world-cup-stadium-1024x576

Year Opened: 1957

World Cup Capacity: 35,696

World Cup Groups Hosting: A, C, F, H

Central Stadium is one of only two stadiums at this World Cup that was built in the 20th Century. Though there’s no doubt they’ve had to undergo extensive renovations over the years including preparations for this year’s World Cup. Actually the arena was a stadium for speed skating. The shift to football and other sports have been the focus since the downfall of the USSR.

The stadium will have 12,000 temporary seats for the World Cup. After the World Cup, it will be the host venue for team FC Ural Yekaterinburg. In addition, there are plans to add a fitness centre and a Valeological centre.

-SAMARA: Cosmos ArenaCosmos Samara

Year Opened: 2018

World Cup Capacity: 42,374

World Cup Groups Hosting: A, C, E, H

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (E1 vs. F2) & a quarter-final

Cosmos is one of many stadiums built fresh for this World Cup. It came at a cost of $320 million. The building of the stadium was first meant to be built on an island close to the city, but the intended construction of a bridge, and the public’s uproar over its total expense, led it to be built in the north area of the city.

After the World Cup, it will be the host venue of team FC Krylia Sovetov Samara.

And there you go. My first preview of the World Cup teams and stadiums. Seven more groups and ten more stadiums to review before World Cup 2018 starts. Stay tuned for more.

2015 Copa America: Group B Focus/ Grupo B Enfoque

The Copa is just two days away but the excitement still builds. This group should be especially exciting because there are two World Cup winners here. Hey, the Copa’s any country’s game. So here’s the run-down of Group B:

GROUP B:

argentina-Argentina (2): Argentina is one country that keeps on having a stellar reputation and a team full of talent. Argentina is also a team that is known to have legendary misses such as losing in the quarterfinals at the last Copa America in 2011. Even the shots in the World Cup final where they’ve could have won it but missed still linger in the memory of many. Since the World Cup, Argentina has had a mixed bag of results. They got their revenge on Germany in September 4-2 and they’ve have wins Against Croatia, Ecuador and Bolivia. However they’ve also endured losses to Brazil and Portugal. This Copa will be another proving point for Messi and the boys.

Uruguay-Uruguay (8): Uruguay looks great to repeat as Copa champions. However they still face the difficulty of playing without Luis Suarez as he will be suspended from the tournament because of the biting incident at the 2014 World Cup. Nevertheless we should remember that Uruguay is not just Suarez. It’s Edinson Cavani, Cristian Rodriguez and Maxi Pereira too. They also never official lost a game since the World Cup, only enduring a penalty kick loss to Costa Rica in November. I’m sure football’s ‘little giant’ can surprise us once again.

Paraguay-Paraguay (81): Paraguay appeared to have a stellar era starting back in the late 1990’s and ending just years ago. That included qualifying for four straight World Cups and even being runners-up at the Copa in 2011. However Paraguay is going through a difficult time now. They finished last in the CONMEBOL qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup. They’ve also only had two wins in the last twelve months: against Cameroon and Peru. Few players on their team play in leagues outside of Paraguay. However this tournament could be one where Paraguay can see it as a stepping stone for a comeback. No matter what they do, they can always grow.

Jamaica-Jamaica (74): Caribbean teams have been taken more seriously in the last few decades. In fact FIFA is thinking of expanding its World Cup to forty nations in hopes of making it more global and even including Caribbean countries. Jamaica has a big  part in it. They played in the 1998 World Cup. Even though they didn’t qualify for the next round, they did win over Japan. Trinidad and Tobago was the next Caribbean team to qualify for the World Cup. However it’s Jamaica that first caught the eyes of FIFA.

Currently their team has five players in England’s Premier League and five in the MLS. Their recent play has not been the most spectacular as they have endured some big losses in friendlies. However they did win against Venezuela and Cuba recently. This tournament will give another sign how the Reggae Boyz are doing.

PREDICTION:

This is a tough one. Argentina’s the leader but this competition has traditionally been Uruguay’s domain. I’ll pick Argentina to top the group with Uruguay second. Third to Jamaica.

And there you go. My summary of the Group B teams of the Copa. Only one more group to sum up and that’s Thursday.

La Copa está a sólo dos días de distancia, pero la emoción todavía construye. Este grupo debe ser especialmente emocionante porque hay dos campeones del mundo aquí. Oye, la Copa es el partido de cualquier país. Así que aquí está la decadencia del Grupo B:

 

GRUPO B:

argentina-Argentina (2): La Argentina es un país que sigue teniendo una reputación estelar y un equipo lleno de talento. Argentina también es un equipo que se sabe que tiene fallos legendarios como de perder en los cuartos de final en la última Copa América en 2011. Incluso los disparos en la final del Mundial donde han podrían haber ganado pero se perdió aún persisten en la memoria de muchos. Desde la Copa del Mundo, Argentina ha tenido una mezcla de resultados. Ellos consiguieron su venganza en Alemania en septiembre 4 a 2 y han tener victorias contra Croacia, Ecuador y Bolivia. Sin embargo, también han soportado pérdidas a Brasil y Portugal. Esta Copa será otro punto de prueba para Messi y los chicos.

Uruguay-Uruguay (8): Uruguay se ve muy bien para repetir como campeones de Copa. Sin embargo todavía se enfrentan a la dificultad de jugar sin Luis Suárez como será suspendido del torneo debido al incidente de morder en la Copa del Mundo de 2014. Sin embargo, debemos recordar que Uruguay no es sólo Suárez. Es Edinson Cavani, Cristian Rodríguez y Maxi Pereira también. También no oficial perdieron un partido desde la Copa Mundial, sólo soportar una pérdida de tiro penal a Costa Rica en noviembre. Estoy ‘pequeño gigante’ Seguro de fútbol nos puede sorprender una vez más.

Paraguay-Paraguay (81): Paraguay parecía tener una era estelar empezando de nuevo a finales de 1990 y terminando apenas hace años. Eso incluía clasificación para cuatro rectas Copas del Mundo y aun siendo subcampeón en la Copa en 2011. Sin embargo Paraguay está pasando por un momento difícil ahora. Terminaron última en las eliminatorias de la CONMEBOL para la Copa del Mundo de 2014. Han también sólo tenían dos victorias en los últimos doce meses: contra Camerún y Perú. Pocos jugadores de su equipo juegan en ligas fuera de Paraguay. Sin embargo este torneo podría ser aquella en Paraguay puede verlo como un trampolín para un regreso. No importa lo que hagan, siempre pueden crecer.

Jamaica-Jamaica (74): Los equipos del Caribe se han tomado más en serio en las últimas décadas. De hecho la FIFA está pensando en ampliar su Copa del Mundo de cuarenta naciones con la esperanza de lo que es más global e incluso incluyendo los países del Caribe. Jamaica tiene un papel importante en ello. Jugaron en el Mundial de 1998. A pesar de que no calificaron para la siguiente ronda, que ganaron sobre Japón. Trinidad y Tobago fue el siguiente equipo caribeño clasificarse para la Copa del Mundo. Sin embargo, es Jamaica, que primero llamó la atención de la FIFA.

Actualmente su equipo tiene cinco jugadores de la Premier League inglesa y cinco en la MLS. Su obra reciente no ha sido el más espectacular, ya que han sufrido algunas grandes pérdidas en los amistosos. Sin embargo ellos ganaron contra Venezuela y Cuba recientemente. Este torneo dará otra señal de cómo los Reggae Boyz están haciendo.

PREDICCIÓN:

Esta es una pregunta difícil. Argentina es el líder, pero esta competición ha sido tradicionalmente el dominio de Uruguay. Voy a recoger Argentina al principio el grupo con Uruguay segundos. Tercero a Jamaica.

Y ahí lo tienes. Mi resumen de los equipos del Grupo B de la Copa. Sólo un grupo más para resumir y que es jueves.

World Cup 2014 Preview: Group D

It’s questionable which of the eight World Cup groups of this year should be called the ‘Group Of Death.’ Most people are saying it should be Group D, and with good reason. It consists of three countries that have won at least one World Cup and all three are still strong today. It’s a shame there will be at least one of those World Cup winners packing once all the Group Stage matches are done.

So here’s my rundown of the Group D teams:

Uruguay-Uruguay (6)- If any country has to be the comeback story of football, it’s Uruguay. Uruguay dominated football in the 1920’s and won the first ever World Cup in 1930. Uruguay also shocked home country Brazil in 1950 by beating them 2-1 in the Maracanazo, which I will write about in a later blog. Since then, Uruguay’s prowess withered over time. It was like their fourth-place finish in 1970 was the end of it all. It would take four more World Cup appearances where the highest they got was the Round of 16 before there was a turnabout in the last few years. And it was over at the 2010 World Cup where Uruguay sent the message they’re back with their fourth-place finish. Further success continued with a win at the 2011 Copa America, qualifying their under-23 team for the Olympic Games, and finishing fourth at last year’s Confederations Cup. They’ve also had good play in friendlies with wins against, Italy, France and Japan. Nevertheless they did struggle during World Cup qualifying during the first half. They just have to be together in Brazil if they want to write another chapter to their new legacy.

Costa Rica-Costa Rica (34)- Costa Rica seems like the odd one out in this group. The other three have won World Cups in the past and the furthest they ever made it was the Round of 16 back in 1990. Maybe so but Costa Rica can deliver. They have had wins against Mexico and the U.S. last year. They’ve had their notable losses too. Whatever the situation, this can be a good learning experience for Costa Rica. They’ve never won against any of their Group D rivals but win, lose or draw, this can provide excellent growth for the team. They have good guidance through Colombian coach Jorge Luis Pinto and have talented players like Fulham’s Bryan Ruiz, Costa Rica’s top goalscorer Alvaro Saborio and rising newcomer Joel Campbell who plays for Arsenal. Don’t underestimate Costa Rica.

England fixed-England (11)- It’s always the same old story for the Three Lions. England often has the finest combined talent assembled for a football team no matter what tournament they enter. However they don’t always play like a functioning team and they often come up shorter than expected. And don’t get me started on penalty kicks. 2014 will define the TriLi’s even further. They have the goods to do well. They have an excellent coach in Roy Hodgson who took on England just two months before Euro 2012. They have top players like captain Steven Gerrard, vice-captain Frank Lampard, phenom Wayne Rooney and rising young star Jack Wilshere. Since Hodgson took over as coach, England has been impressive despite being ousted in the quarterfinals of Euro 2012 thanks to, you guessed it, penalty kicks. They’ve won or drew most of their matches. Even their losses– to Sweden, Chile and Germany–were not that big. So will England arrive here in Brazil? It will all be decided with the whole world in their wake.

Italy ficed-Italy (9)- The Azzuri are traditionally a stellar team. Only Brazil and Germany have finer World Cup legacies. However things really took a stump at World Cup 2010. They entered the tournament as the reigning Cup holders and left at the end of the Group Stage. The irony being they had the same coach that led them to win the 2006 World Cup. Italy has since hired Cesare Prandelli as their new coach and he has given them an excellent turn-around. The tournament where Cesare proved himself and the new Azzuri was Euro 2012. The Euro was won by Spain but Italy did make it to the finals. That was enough to send the  message that Italy was back and playing with the winning style the Azzuri has the reputation for. Italy also finished third at last year’s Confederations Cup and qualified for the World Cup easily. However Italy has shown some glitches in recent play. They beat Mexico and tied Germany but have lost to Argentina, Brazil and Spain. Italy is seeking redemption in 2014. No doubt they have the ability. It’s just a matter of them delivering.

And now my prediction. I predict the two advancers from this group will be Uruguay and Italy.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

After doing three spotlights where I’ve spotlighted two stadiums, I can finally spotlight only one here. However it’s one of the biggest and will be a major stage here at the World Cup.

-BELO HORIZONTE : Estadio MineiraoBelo Horizonte

Year Opened: 1965

World Cup Capacity: 62,547

World Cup Groups Hosting: C, D, F, H

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (A1 vs. B2) & a semi-final

This is another of Brazil’s classic football stadiums. It was 25 years in the making and opened up in 1965. The stadium is considered one of the best football stadiums in the world. The stadium once held over 132,000 people for a soccer match back in 1997. Many other big soccer matches and big concerts have been held in the stadium. There was some redevelopment to the stadium in the years leading to the World Cup. Now fans can enjoy better access to the arena. The stadium was also one of the venues for the Confederations Cup. After the World Cup the stadium will return to being homes to Atletico Mineiro and Cruzeiro.

MEET THE MASCOT FULECO

Fuleco dancing with hosts at the World Cup Draw in December 2013.
Fuleco dancing at the World Cup Draw in December.

Since I only have one stadium to focus on, I thought I’d give a focus to the mascot. Normally choosing a mascot for a major sporting event is not an easy thing and it wouldn’t be an easy thing for the World Cup. Some like Striker in 1994 and Zakumi in 2010 were well-received. Some like Goleo in 2006 were questionable since the lion is representative not of Germany but more England and the Netherlands. And then there are even food-based mascots like Naranjito the Spanish orange from 1982 and Pique the jalapeno pepper from 1986.

Brazil went with a three-banded armadillo who camouflages himself as a soccer ball. Brazil held a vote on the mascot’s name and the most votes went for Fuleco: a mix of the words Ful–from Futebol (football)– and eco from Ecologia (ecology). The name should suit as Fuleco is representative of football spirit and is of an endangered species. Fuleco has a cheerful and appealing personality. He’s a proud, confident Brazilian armadillo. He does not talk but he’s very curious and extroverted, adventurous and loves to explore wherever he goes. Like all Brazilians, he has a big heart and is hospitable. Unlike his other armadillo friends, he’s very sociable. He loves to dance to music, especially Brazilian samba music, and likes keeping up to date with his family.

Brazil has given Fuleco a positive response. Within two days after Fuleco’s announcement, 89% of Brazil knew who Fuleco was. A recent survey of appeal revealed that Brazilians gave him average appeal score of 7.3 out of 10. Already he’s destined to be one of the best World Cup mascots ever.

And there you go. That’s my take on group D, another World Cup venue and the mascot Fuleco. More World Cup stuff to come.

2013 Confederations Cup: More Than A Soccer Tournament

The FIFA Confederations Cup is as much of a pre-World Cup test event as it is a major international soccer tournament.
The Confederations Cup is as much a pre-World Cup test event as it is a major soccer tournament.

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:

GROUP A:

-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.

GROUP B:

-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.