2017 FIFA Confederations Cup- written by Christian Dobosiewicz
International football is nothing to scoff at. Just ask the millions of professional footballers, children, and enthusiasts around the world who have dreamt of hoisting the FIFA World Cup while donning the colors of their nation. Now, within a year of the grandest sporting spectacle in the world, a special edition of international football graces our televisions, computers, phones, radios and eyesight should you be lucky enough to attend a match in Russia. The FIFA Confederations Cup, going on it’s 10th edition, will be an historic one as debutants seek to claim another international trophy. Smaller nations will be competing on a much bigger stage, and Brazil won’t be champions of yet another international competition. Here we dive into the prologue to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, with 8 teams vying for the cup. It should be fun to get a taste of what’s to come next summer. But how will teams fare in this tournament? I break it all down below.
How they got there: Russia was made the official host of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which qualifies them to automatically host this summer’s Confederations Cup.
Strength: As hosts Russia will have the advantage of playing on home soil and should be comfortable during the matches. Historically, they are not weak, though they have been underwhelming in recent tournaments, with a favorable group, don’t be shocked should they reach the knockout stage.
Weakness: Because they are hosts for this coming World Cup, they have not had to qualify for it via playing matches. This means they have not played a competitive match in a year, with their last one being a disappointing 3-0 thrashing at the hands of the Welsh in France last summer.
Key Player: Igor Akinfeev: The man known for his loyalty to his club, joining CSKA Moscow at just four years old. Akinfeev is an experienced goalkeeper, with 98 caps for the national team. He is someone the Russians may be thankful for when the clash with experienced goal scorers such as Ronaldo and Chicharito.
Hope: On paper Russia is far from the best team in this tournament, but as they say, football is unpredictable. After all, in 9 editions of this tournament, 3 of the champions have been the hosts.
Predicted Finish: Group Stage
How they got there: Germany qualified on the boot of Mario Gotze in the 117th minute of the 2014 FIFA World Cup final. As winners of that tournament, they gained entry into the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup.
Strength: They are Germany. Perennial powerhouse of international football, the Germans captured their 4th World Cup in 2014 and have been to the semifinals in every major tournament since Joachim Low has taken over as manager in 2006. Their style of play is fast and cold blooded, fueled by the fire of young up and coming stars.
Weakness: With all the firepower that the youth can bring to the national tournaments, there is always a sign of inexperience. With the oldest player being only 29 years old (Sandro Wagner) and the most capped player having 30 (Julian Draxler) the Germans are not relying on experience, which will hurt them as the tournament progresses.
Key Player: Joshua Kimmich: With the retirement of German and Bayern Munich legend Phillip Lahm. There is an empty spot at right back for Die Mannschaft, that’s where Kimmich comes in. The 22 year old defender has had flashes of brilliance (Check his bicycle kick finish vs Denmark) and this could be the tournament he makes a breakthrough for his national side.
Hope: Reigning world champions and one of the best national teams all time, there’s no real reason to completely count them out. Another trophy is not out of reach for these Germans.
Predicted Finish: Third Place
How they got there: The Socceroos ousted the South Koreans in extra time of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup final to reach this tournament. This is their first time recreating the Asian zone, while previously representing the Oceania football conference.
Strength: The Australians are in good form in competitive matches, undefeated in World Cup qualifying and winners of their last two. The Socceroos are heating up at the right time. With an experienced midfield and even more experienced strikers, the Australians are not new to the international stage.
Weakness: Even with the loads of experience, the side is not that strong in terms of individual talent. Not to mention the defense is not yet proven, they have kept 3 clean sheets this qualifying campaign but have not played a team ranked higher than 50 in the world.
Key Player: Tim Cahill: I know, I know, he’s old, really old. But Tim Cahill still produces for the national team. He may not play as many minutes as he comes off the bench more often than not, but the leading goalscorer in Australian history continues to add to his tally. With 9 goals in the 2018 World Cup Qualifying campaign, he’s proven he’s still got it. If you need a goal scorer to break the deadlock, Cahill is not a bad option to have.
Hope: Australia have done surprisingly well in the 3 Confederations Cups they have been in, with their best finish as runners up in 1999, there could be a repeat of that magic.
Predicted Finish: Group stage
How they got there: Chile qualified for their first Confederations Cup when they won their first international tournament in team history. They defeated Argentina on penalties in the 2015 Copa America final and cemented their place as one of the best international teams in the world.
Strength: Their individual talent is among the best in the tournament. With a roster headlined by the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, Claudio Bravo, and Gary Medel, Chile does not lack talent or experience. A consistent and lethal attack led by Sanchez will have defenses on their heels all game, and should they leave too much space there is the imminent threat of a screamer from Arturo Vidal. After putting 7 goals passed Mexico in last year’s Copa America, expect the goals to come often and in spectacular fashion.
Weakness: Although I mentioned Claudio Bravo amongst the strengths of Chile, he may also be one of their weaknesses. The 34 year old goalkeeper has seen better days as of late. His move to Manchester City has been a bit of a downgrade, keeping only 5 clean sheets in 22 premier league appearances while conceding 26 goals. The match that sticks out in my mind was this season’s Champions League group stage match against former club Barcelona, where Bravo contributed to his team’s 0-4 loss by getting sent off for using his hands outside of the box.
Key Player: Alexis Sanchez: Unsurprisingly, I’ve selected Sanchez for this role as key player for the Chileans this tournament. As the joint-highest goalscorer in Chilean history (37) and second most capped player (110), the expectations are high. With 5 goals and 5 assists each in his last three international tournaments, and the game winning penalty against Argentina which sent Chile to this tournament, Sanchez will be looking to produce more magic for the ambitious Chileans.
Hope: Chile has won the last two international tournaments they have been apart of. After winning back to back Copa Americas, the Chileans have gotten a taste of what it’s like to reach international glory and will only be hungry for more. With talent across the pitch, my expectations are high for this team.
Predicted Finish: Champions
How they got there: Mexico reached this summer’s Confederations Cup after a play off against USA. Though they were the winners of the previous two Gold Cups, the play off was necessary to determine which nation would represent the CONCACAF. Mexico won the play off by a score of 3-2 at the Rose Bowl on October 10th, 2015.
Strength: The Mexican national team has loads of experience at this tournament. With 6 appearances prior to this year’s edition, New Zealand and Australia are among the next highest in regards to appearances with 3. The Mexicans also have some star power of their own. Their defense is led by 20-year international Rafael Marquez, with the famous Chicharito up top and a solid Guillermo Ochoa between the sticks. Not to mention the Porto man Hector Herrera, who has had himself a solid three years for both club and country in the midfield. Mexico will be confident going into the tournament.
Weakness: With the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup also a part of this summer’s international football festivities, it has been well documented that this Mexican team is not at full strength. They have most of their regular starters, however they are lacking in depth, as they wanted to save some quality players for the Gold Cup later in July. Although this tournament is a small one and a lot of depth may not be needed, don’t expect the Mexicans to be using substitutions so freely this tournament.
Key Player: Giovani dos Santos: dos Santos has an eye for finding the goal and has showed as much in the MLS the last few years. His spectacular goals are highlights week in and week out across American televisions and I wouldn’t doubt he can light it up again this summer. Along with his goals, dos Santos is a winner. He has won a u17 World Cup, an Olympic football tournament, and 3 Gold Cups with the Mexican national team. That lust for victory may spread to the rest of his team as well.
Hope: Mexico is the only national team in this tournament who has won it before, which never hurts morale. Their opening group match against Portugal will dictate the rest of their tournament. Win, and confidence will be at a new high, lose, and they just might start to doubt themselves, especially with the malicious Chilean attack looming in Group B.
Predicted Finish: Fourth Place
How they got there: New Zealand earned the honor of representing the Oceania Football Confederation in this summer’s Confederations Cup after defeating Papua New Guinea 4-2 on penalties after a 0-0 120 minute bout. This will be their 4th Confederations Cup and the All Whites will be looking to get passed the group stage for the first time in their history.
Strength: There’s not much to say about this national team in terms of strength when comparing them to the rest of the champions they will be playing. The OFC itself is a much lower tier of international football, as they are not even guaranteed a spot at the World Cup. However, New Zealand has the strength of the underdog. No one expects them to perform well, yet the players will be ambitious to make a name for themselves and their country against huge footballing nations like Portugal and Mexico.
Weakness: New Zealand lacks talent. It will be hard to keep up with teams who have much more skill and are better tactically. Although ambition and heart can carry a team for short bursts, some true talent will be needed to compete with the absolute best. History also fails to reside with the All Whites. In the 9 matches they have played at the Confederations Cup, they have only mustered a single draw as their best result.
Key Player: Chris Wood: The 25 year old has 49 caps for his international side, which is an impressive figure considering the highest capped player on the squad is a 35 year old Shane Shmeltz with only 55 caps. Wood has scored 19 goals for the All Whites in his career and represented them at the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Wood found a lot of success this past season with Leeds United in the English Championship, where he was named to the Championship team of the season, and Leeds United player of the year.
Hope: Football underdogs will look for inspiration in the 2015/16 Leicester City team who won the Premier League against 5000/1 odds and the Euro 2016 Iceland squad who shocked millions in France as they defeated England 2-1 in the Round of 16. New Zealand will not be any different than those underdogs. They will have to claw their way through to get results and maybe, with a bit of luck, they could create history.
Predicted Finish: Group Stage
How they got there: Portugal was considered one of the greatest footballing countries to never win an international trophy. That is until last summer’s Euro Cup in France. After captain Cristiano Ronaldo was subbed off with an injury in the 25th minute, the Portuguese all held their breathe as Eder’s wonder strike against the French gave Portugal glory for the first time in history.
Strength: Portugal boasts a side full of young talent who has proven themselves at the international level (Raphael Guerreiro and Bernardo Silva). The side also contains seasoned veterans like Pepe, Ricardo Quaresma, and of course Cristiano Ronaldo. Coach Fernando Santos proved his tactical prowess at last summer’s Euros as Portugal defended their way to the championship. Santos’ knowledge of his players strengths can help them thrive this summer.
Weakness: The Portuguese midfield seems weaker than it usually is. With Renato Sanches playing at the u21 Euros this summer, the midfield will be needing another spark should they want to win. With veteran Joao Moutinho in the waning years of his international career, Portugal will look to the likes of Andre Gomes, who has had a disappointing season with Barcelona but has showed promise in the past. If the midfield can’t control possession, Portugal could be looking at an early exit.
Key Player: Cristiano Ronaldo: The Portuguese have been living and dying by the Real Madrid superstar for the last 8 years. If he is scoring goals there is nothing that can slow him down, but there have been moments on the international stage where he has been shut down. Some may argue Portugal doesn’t need the aging winger as they managed to beat France without him. However, he has scored 11 goals in 5 World Cup Qualifying matches and has just won his 3rd Champions League in 4 years. Although his future in Madrid is under heavy speculation, one thing is true for the all time Portuguese goal scorer. While he is on the pitch wearing the crest of Portugal, he will be going for goal relentlessly and not many will be able to stop him.
Hope: Portugal were heavy underdogs when they beat France last summer and succeeded even without Ronaldo. This summer they are among the favorites to win and with Ronaldo in great form, he could carry them to a 2nd championship in as many years.
Predicted Finish: Runners Up
How they got there: Cameroon became the last of 8 nations to qualify for this tournament when they won the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations 2-1 over Egypt thanks to Vincent Aboubakar’s 88th minute finish. This will be their 3rd appearance at the Confederations Cup and their first since 2003.
Strength: Cameroon is not heavily favored in the competition, especially being in a group with Germany and Chile. Although they do have some quality strengths. They have a strong group of young talent that was underestimated in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations and went above and beyond to reach this Confederations Cup. The Indomitable Lions will look to the strength of their attack, which consists of young players such as Aboubakar and Christian Bassogog to inspire their play.
Weakness: As with the Australians and New Zealanders, Cameroon does not boast much natural talent. Within the past few years they have lost legends such as Samuel Eto’o and Alexandre Song to retirement. The team has also had it’s struggles on the World stage, where in 2014 they were knocked out in the group stage after 3 defeats. Although Cameroon was underestimated in the Africa Cup of Nations, it is not likely that teams will take them lightly. After all, it is a global competition and that is where the stars shine brightest.
Key Player: Christian Bassogog: Bassogog is still just a 21 year old footballer. He is not well known by bigger teams in club football, but now he is certainly known around Africa. His brilliance and creativity shocked the continent as he was a star player for Cameroon on the way to their Africa Cup of Nations victory. Should he play just as well for Cameroon in this tournament, he could find himself playing at a big club before the summer is over. Who knows, he may even be holding the Confederations Cup trophy before that.
Hope: In their previous appearance Cameroon went all the way to the final, only to lose to Thierry Henry’s golden goal in extra time. History is also against them as an African team has never won the Confederations Cup. It would take a huge stroke of luck for Cameroon to break the streak with this young squad, but it is football. You never know what may happen.
Predicted Finish: Group Stage