RIO DE JANEIRO, 12 JUNE: Despite featuring only eight teams, the Confederations Cup offers plenty of star power with Neymar, Mario Balotelli and Andres Iniesta among the top players to watch.
The focus starts with Brazil and its rock-star forward Neymar, a recent Barcelona signing who is sure to attract much of the attention in the warm-up tournament for the World Cup.
The 21-year-old striker hasn’t been as successful with Brazil as he was with Santos, but he remains the country’s biggest hope for a World Cup title at home in 2014.
At midfield, Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari counts on Chelsea playmaker Oscar and Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Lucas, who have successfully made the transition into European football.
- On defense, it will be Paris Saint-Germain’s Thiago Silva and Chelsea’s David Luiz in the middle, and Barcelona’s Daniel Alves and Real Madrid’s Marcelo on the wings.
- But Brazil isn’t the only team full of world-class footballers.
- Defending world champion Spain will bring Iniesta and Barcelona teammates Xavi Hernandez, Cesc Fabregas and David Villa.
- Spain coach Vicente del Bosque also named goalkeeper Iker Casillas on the team. He has not played a competitive match since breaking a bone in his hand in a Copa del Rey match in January.
- “He’s one of us,” Del Bosque said of Casillas.
- Balotelli has become Italy’s most explosive player. His two-goal performance in the Azzurri’s victory over Germany in the semifinals of last year’s European Championship was his most memorable night with the national team, and he now seems rejuvenated after transferring to AC Milan in January.
- Having played only occasionally with Manchester City previously, Balotelli scored 12 goals in 13 appearances with Milan. His strike partner at Milan, Stephan El Shaarawy, also pairs with him in Italy’s attack.
- Liverpool striker Luis Suarez is the main man for Uruguay, and he needs to use the Confederations Cup to rehabilitate himself. Suarez, who has a long list of disciplinary problems, was banned for 10 matches in the English Premier League after biting Chelsea defender Branisalv Ivanovic in April. Suarez has recently talked about wanting to leave England, saying he’s fed up with the British media.
- “I love Liverpool and everyone knows I have a contract,” he said in a radio interview.
- “But if there’s a chance of playing elsewhere, I’d think about it. “It would be tough to turn down Read Madrid.”
- Along with Suarez, Uruguay also features Edinson Cavani, the top scorer in Italy this season playing for Napoli.
- The team also has striker Diego Forlan, who was named the best player in the 2010 World Cup, and has had a strong season for Brazilian side Internacional. The backbone for Olympic champion Mexico is Manchester United forward Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez.
Although Hernandez lost his starting job this season with United, he still scored 18 goals. He has 50 in three seasons in England and has scored 30 goals in 45 games with the national team.
For Japan, watch Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda and Yuto Nagatomo. Kagawa finished the season with six goals for Manchester United and will need to deliver for coach Alberto Zaccheroni.
Nagatomo had been sidelined since April 14 because of a torn meniscus in his left knee at Inter Milan, but opted not to have surgery and made a successful comeback.
Honda, a CSKA Moscow midfielder, has scored 13 goals in 41 games for Japan since his international debut in 2008.
“I am not exactly sure what kind of shape they’ll be in as they arrive on different days,” Zaccheroni said.
“Honda is not 100 percent but he is getting better. I’ll ask the players coming back from Europe to take it easy for a while.”
Nigeria will likely be led by midfielder Sunday Mba, who scored the lone goal in the African Cup of Nations final, and Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel, while Tahiti boasts striker Marama Vahirua and the four members of the Tehau family _ twins Alvin and Lorenzo, their brother Jonathan and cousin Teaonui.
“We are a unit within the national team,” Alvin Tehau said. “I think it helps the team as a whole.” ap