With the 2016/17 league season behind us and no World Cup or European Championship to look forward, this summer’s gonna be a long one for football fans. But all is not lost for those of us who live for The Beautiful Game… There is, effectively, a mini World Cup to enjoy. That’s right. The Confederations Cup.
An international tournament that works as a kind of prelude to the next year’s World Cup, the Confederations Cup gives the host nation (on this occasion, Russia) a chance to iron out any creases in their hosting duties. And it also allows the public to whet their World Cup whistles a little.
This is the tenth time we’ve been treated to the competition and it’ll see eight teams duke it out across four host cities to determine a winner. Entrants are the six winners of the FIFA confederation championships, the World Cup hosts and the current champions.
And here’s a rundown of all eight:
We start our profiles with the host nation, Russia. Stanislav Cherchesov’s men kick off the tournament on Saturday 17th June in St. Petersburg (kick off is 4pm GMT). They’re up against rank outsiders New Zealand. Also in their group are Portugal and Mexico. They should win their first match in a little style, though whether they do so in front of a packed stadium is another matter. Ticket sales have been disappointing, by all accounts.
Still, being hosts is always an advantage and getting three points under your belt early is also important. We can see them beating an out of sorts Mexico too. And a draw or win against Portugal wouldn’t be a huge shock. In fact, we fancy Russia’s surprisingly inexperienced squad (despite their young age) to do pretty well in this tournament.
World champions Germany strike fear into the heart of their opponents, no matter what the situation. But the Germans are not untouchable here. Joachim Low hasn’t sent his strongest squad due east for this, so we can expect a pretty young starting XI for most of their games. But as inexperienced and experimental as Low’s squad selection is, there are still some fine players at his disposal… Julian Draxler, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Shkodran Mustafi, Matthias Ginter, Jonas Hector and Emre Can should all feature prominently.
But do they justify such short odds? Well, no. We wouldn’t rule out Die Mannschaft picking up the trophy at their thrid attempt, but nor would be stick our house on it.
Their first game is at 4pm on Monday, against Australia in Sochi.
Australia arrive in Russia after being invited for winning the 2015 AFC Asian Cup (they’re too dominant in the Oceania version and have to play in Asia now). Ange Postecoglou’s Socceroos picked up that trophy on home soil, proving that hosting a tournament is always a good idea. They beat South Korea 2-1 in what was a pretty tense final some eighteen months ago.
Captain Mile Jedinak and his men are in some decent form, going unbeaten so far in their World Cup qualification campaign. That said, they did only managed draws against the likes of Thailand, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. So it’s difficult to back them here. Still, Tim Cahill’s always capable of scoring. Even at 37.
South America is usually represented by Brazil at the Confederations Cup. And they normally win it. But this time, it’s the Alexis Sanchez-inspired Chile that will be providing the Latin flair. They beat Argentina 4-1 on penalties in the Copa America of 2015 to earn their place on the pitch.
They start their campaign against Cameroon in Moscow on Sunday night and will need Manchester City’s Claudio Bravo to up his game if they want to go all the way. Unlike a lot of other nations at the tournament, Chile are taking some of their most experienced and talented players. Hence their pretty short odds.
A hectic World Cup qualifying schedules (and too many friendlies), coupled with some big name injuries, have really put Mexico at a disadvantage of late. Defensively-minded coach Juan Carlos Osorio isn’t expected to expose his remaining prize assets here and another early Confederations Cup exit is predicted for Mexico by many pundits.
El Tri begin their campaign against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal on Sunday June 18th and follow it up with matches against New Zealand and hosts Russia. Look out for ex-Barcelona centre back Rafa Marquez, who still gets a run out for them. At 38, he almost makes Tim Cahill look like a spring chicken.
New Zealand (500/1)
Representing Oceania are New Zealand who won the OFC Nations Cup last year, which was played in Papua New Guinea in front of about forty people. It’s tempting to consider the All Whites as the whipping boys of the thing. Like Tahiti were when they played in Brazil four years ago under the same terms (remember when Spain beat them 10-0?).
But New Zealand are a little different. They went unbeaten in Group F (finishing above Italy) at the 2010 World Cup, remember? Three draws weren’t enough to see them past the group stage, but these boys are no slouches.
Though, again, they ain’t getting out of their group.
Second favourites Portugal almost seemed to fluke the Euros last year, didn’t they? Boring games tipped their way time and time again. But their nines games since then have averaged 4.5 goals scored. And with Cristiano Ronaldo, Bernardo Silva, Nani and Andre Silva at their disposal, they’ll be creating plenty more chances in Russia this summer.
True, Ronaldo might not be firing on all cylinders after a tiring season, but don’t forget – the man’s a machine. And even set to 75% of his true power, the Madeira-born forward scores hat tricks for fun. The Portuguese are second favourites and rightly so.
The final team appearing at the 2017 Confederations Cup are the 2017 CAF Africa Cup of Nations winners, Cameroon. The Indomitable Lions came from behind to beat a much-fancied Egypt 2-1 in the final in Gabon back in February.
Unlike in World Cup showings from Cameroon in recent times, you’re unlikely to recognise too many of the younger faces in the squad. But watch out for Beşiktaş striker Vincent Aboubakar. The clip above demonstrates why he’s worth keeping an eye on…
Okay, so it might not be a World Cup or Euros. But, hey – it’s still some damn fine international football available to watch on terrestrial TV either at home or at your local Rileys. And who are we to turn our noses up at it, eh?