Pressure mounts on Scolari as Brazil expected to strut their stuff at the Confederations Cup
Quality of the opposition a fitting test for next year’s World Cup hosts
Braizilian sill hope Barcelona’s new signing Neymar can shine at the Confederations Cup. Photograph: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
To many the Confederations Cup is a meaningless intrusion on the football calendar, a rinky-dink competition that proves nothing more than Fifa’s greed.
After all, the World Cup already exists to establish the best team on the planet so what, other than money, is the point of a mini-tournament between the leading teams from each continent?
It is not just countries who have no hope of ever qualifying for it that are sniffy about it: Germany have twice declined to take part, as did France’s 1998 world champions.
But this year’s edition promises to be different because, perhaps for the first time, all of the participants are taking it seriously, meaning we could witness exciting contests and gain valuable insights into how some of the best teams from around the globe are shaping up before the main event, next summer’s World Cup.
Each of the eight competing nations have their own reasons for wanting to do well in the tournament that kicks off today with an opening match between the only two countries already guaranteed to be at next year’s showpiece: the hosts, Brazil, and the Asian champions, Japan, who last week became the first team to reach the World Cup via the qualifiers.
Italy, who complete Group A with Mexico, arrive eager not to make the same mistake as in 2009 when they treated the tournament like a post-season jolly and lost to Brazil and Egypt, a performance that set the tone for their dismal display at the 2010 World Cup, where they were eliminated without winning a game.
“Four years ago in South Africa we didn’t approach [the Confederations Cup] properly and we paid the price,” said the Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini.
“Being together for a month provides a great chance to improve – we know that now.”
Cesare Prandelli may have guided the team to the Euro 2012 final during his first tournament in charge but his renovation of the side is far from complete. The manager is still searching for the right blend.
He has generally made Italy faster and more enterprising but, with qualification for the World Cup within his grasp, he tried a more cautious approach away to the Czech Republic this month and was lucky to escape with a 0-0 draw.
One traditional explanation for Mexico’s failure to go far in World Cups is the weakness of their qualification route, which leaves them unaccustomed to facing top-class opponents. That is why they relish the Confederations Cup. Mexico are struggling to make it to next year’s World Cup, lying third in the Concacaf qualification table because of their inability to score regularly.
Their manager, Jose Manuel De La Torre, is still trying to find a formula for alleviating the dependency on Manchester United’s Javier Hernandez.
The South American champions, Uruguay, are also placed precariously in their World Cup qualification group and seeking a formula that gets the best out of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. The latter kept Uruguay’s qualification hopes alive by scoring the winner against Venezuela this week but Suarez was suspended for that and is back for the Confederations Cup, giving manager, Oscar Tabarez, further options.
Uruguay and Spain want to win the tournament to complete their collection of international trophies.
The favourites are, of course, the home side Brazil. Success is is vital for a manager, Luiz Felipe Scolari, whose methods remain the subject of intense debate, and a squad that features just four players with World Cup experience. Win and they will placate their compatriots, at least for a while. Lose and the pressure will mount for change before the World Cup.