One beautiful think about Group B is the strong air of ‘doubt’ intertwined with ‘history’ perfected by football score-lines that have so far defined the football destiny of the four countries involved. Spain, Uruguay, Nigeria and Tahiti all compete for the two automatic semi-final spots in this year’s confederations cup but the journey here hasn’t been easy for any of them.
Spain missing the ‘number 9’ the world badly needed to see finally won the Euro’s again last summer and who wouldn’t fancy them to go on and win it- they just did. Uruguay, 2 years ago…2011 right? Did go on and win the 2011 Copa America and with thoroughly established stars, this tourney might just be another reason to re-kindle their ‘sporting genius’ – the World Cup Qualifiers haven’t been kind you know. For Nigeria it’s even much sweeter- Zambia badly wanted to come for this confederations Cup, actually went further to accuse CAF of denying them a chance of representing the continent as they were deemed not so attractive- will Nigeria go on and attract us with their football? Tahiti, yes Tahiti- the 2012 OFC Nations Cup winner and at this moment, another congratulations to them. Thoroughly the underdogs; have no point to prove, they’ve already outdone themselves, you can only expect too much but hope for so little- with all that behind us and the group B Confederations Cup matches in sight- welcome
Coach; Vicente Del Bosque
To date the only football manager to have won the Champions League, the European Championship, and the World Cup- might be time to add the Confederations Cup to his already long list of titles.
His way of getting out of ‘complex’ situations puzzles the world. With the Euro problems right behind him now, title wrapped under his arms- a new problem appears and how best he’ll deal with it is left to be seen. Quoting his own words ‘’ “There are no starters or substitutes because all of them are primary figures at their clubs and it is difficult to choose because they are all very good.’’ I guess it best summarises how he’s going to deal with them.
Will the confederations cup earn him and his Spanish side a memorable start to Brazil 2014 or will this be the start of the end of Spanish dominance in World Football- so much depends on him, Best of luck Del.
Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), Jose Reina (Liverpool), Victor Valdes (Barcelona).
This is top class quality goalkeeping options for Del Bosque to choose from. While Iker has had a torrid time under Jose Mourinho his ex-boss who I bet he would be glad to watch go, Victor has had a fine season with Barcelona. Forget the Champions League; what matters in Spain is the holy title LALIGA. Reina plies his trade in England and has been equally good for Liverpool though you are always sure- it’s either Victor or Iker for Spain. Tough choice to make regarding Iker might have had a drop in his confidence levels but as Spain’s leader on the pitch- bet on him to start between the sticks for the World Champions.
Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Raul Albiol (Real Madrid), Alvaro Arbeloa (Real Madrid), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Nacho Monreal (Arsenal), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid).
You’re happy, you’re sad- but it’s a good crop of defenders I must say. Azpilcueta for one – not just played well last season, he’s got a Europa medal and a Spanish place to show for it, sadly he seems to have to battle for right back spot with Real Madrid’s Alvaro Arbeloa but for such a position, should be worth it. Nacho hasn’t been that vintage for Arsenal, it his first season, so forgive him but the Spanish side always gets the best out of you- with a spot to fight for against Barcelona’s Jordi Alba. Pique, never rule him out alongside Ramos should be the base of that defence. A mixture of height, bullish attitude and attacking flare characterised by some solid defending acts- the pair should be safe to stop any central attack on the Spanish goalmouth.
Benat Etxebarria (Real Betis), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Santi Cazorla (Arsenal), Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona), Javi Garcia (Manchester City), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Javi Martinez (Bayern Munich), Juan Mata (Chelsea), Jesus Navas (Sevilla), Pedro (Barcelona), David Silva (Manchester City) Xavi (Barcelona).
I’m so glad Javi Martinez made this squad in the absence of Xabi Alonso who’s got a groin injury and had to be withdrawn- should replace him perfectly and with a Champions League medal to show for it- time now to cement his place on the Spanish scene.
Del is a loyal man- seems not to alter a player he’s used over time so much and that’s why Silva still makes this side. Jesus Navas- The man touted as the new saviour for Manchester City should be content with a place on the bench severally but credit to him- offers such great attacking quality and an added dimension to the team. Javi Martinez, Busquets; Pedro, Xavi, Iniesta thus for me should make the cut for the starting XI but with Xavi having age catching up- Fabregas just like in Barcelona should be a perfect replacement- not forgetting his role at the national team where he plays the ‘false 9’ when called upon to.
I might have gone ahead of myself and stated Fabregas would play the false 9 but this coach has the ability to surprise you- waiting to see how it turns out as the forwards line up
Fernando Torres (Chelsea), Roberto Soldado (Valencia), David Villa (Barcelona)
Loyalty and ‘ wonderful surprise’ spelt all over this one and interesting to note that while Soldado has been locked out of previous squads- the Valencia hit man might have just hit his jackpot finally. Torres and Villa should be common faces for this assignments but the form that separates the two isn’t very lovely for a tournament of this magnitude just as the experience they got- can’t be assumed. Considering Del Bosque’s preference for midfielders over forwards, Fabregas is more likely to feature as a false No. 9 than Soldado is to feature in attack.
The most dominant force in world football over a while now must now step up to the plate and aim to win a title they’ve never won. While the whole World stands in awe at the Spanish footballing achievements, there’s never any room for complacency. Against Nigeria, Tahiti and Uruguay- one would assume only Uruguay stand a chance and maybe, just maybe Nigeria. Well, in no particular order- my safest bet would be Spain topping the group, the quality is there for everyone to see, mind not who comes second, they gotta fight for their own.
Coach; Oscar Tabarez
Times haven’t been good for Oscar and his team in the recent past, wins have been hard to come by and even a World Cup place now looks highly in doubt. A surprise package during the 2010 World Cup and hoping to replicate the same in this tournament, Oscar will be hoping his trusted boys turn in the screw during this tournament and in the foreseeable beyond.
Muslera (Galatasaray), Castillo (Danubio FC), Silva (Defensor)
Galatasaray just won the Turkish League and most people will tell you, it’s not just the forward line that was attacking on all fronts- the goalkeeping position was another that deserves lots of credit. One man that was behind that is Uruguayan keeper Muslera who will seek to replicate his brilliant 2010 World Cup/2011 Copa America form. Castillo at age 35, having played second fiddle to Muslra over a while now must have to content with the same place on the bench for another tourney. Silva has only one cap to his name to date and should be ready to learn the ropes from the bench.
Lugano (Malaga), Godin (Atletico Madrid), Coates (Liverpool), Aguirregaray (Penarol), Pereira (Benfica), Scotti (Nacional), Caceres (Juventus);
Greatest and most happy man must be Caseres, the Juventus who must be happy Fucule is missing again just like in the 2011 COPA AMERICA where Caseres got his time at right back and seems to have permanently made it his. Started only 18 games at Juve but would be glad to meet Pique whom he deputised at Barcelona in the 2008/2009 treble winning season. Victorio Maximiliano Pereira Páez should feature for right back comfortably having played the same position for National team during the 2010 World Cup /2011COPA AMERICA while the best captain at the 2010 FIFA World Cup Captain Lugano Morena and Godin should form the central pairing. Lugano’s experience having been loaned out of PSG to Malaga should help him lead out his country as well as seek to capture the eyes of the French Champions. Coates is rather new, just ten caps under his cap, another time to learn the trade and as well seek to push for s berth.
Gargano (Inter Milan), Pereira (Inter Milan), Rodriguez (Atletico Madrid), Eguren (Club Libertad), Lodeiro (Botafogo), Perez (Bologna), Arevalo (Palermo), Ramirez (Southampton), Gonzalez (Lazio);
Ramirez might have not featured in the last three matches for Southampton but from the day he made his debut for club against Arsenal- you surely knew he was headed for greatness. He might have to miss the starting XI but his presence in club midfield surely deserves him this call up. A product of the U20 WC- 14 Caps is no mean feat. Rodrigues is another one who’s had a stellar season but for the starting XI the coach most likely would go for loyalty and that would be Gargano who at Napoli perfected his art of setting up Cavani severally and would relish the challenge again. Arevalo strong and thoroughly built but with age catching up might be playing his last matches for the team. Alongside him would be Lodeiro (First player to receive a red card at the 2010 World Cup) another Ajax youngster who impressed during the World Cup and the 2011 COPA AMERICA. Perreira- all you know him would be the perfect fit for the remaining wing spot. Good as a defender and as a midfielder too. His goal against South Africa in 2010 might have looked insignificant but did justice in proving how much a threat he can be going forward too.
Alvaro Rafael and Diego Perez are other older names and more experienced but since not everyone can make the squad will be glad to be rotated as the Uruguay midfield seek to find Cavani Suarez or even go for goal themselves in Brazil.
Suarez (Liverpool), Forlan (Internacional), Hernandez (Palermo), Cavani (Napoli)
Well, so where do we start, let’s give the Youngster some priority then. Hernandez at age 18 is probably living his dream. Featured at the U20 World Cup and well known for his holding capabilities once in the box; Would be a bet for an assist given the chance rather than scoring one himself. Forlan the 2010 World Cup hero for Uruguay hasn’t been in very good form and you bet the coach would overlook him for Suarez and Cavani but never binning his experience. That said- bet on Cavani and the Liverpool man to start upfront. Cavani has of late been accused of not taking his game seriously for Uruguay but with Suarez wanting to shed his ‘bad image’ publicity in another tourney- would be a good combination out to prove doubters wrong.
Another team in crisis but will this tournament send them to the pit of yester years where failure was their cup of tea? Hopefully not- with a decent squad of youngsters you certainly feel Oscar hasn’t taken that advantage and brought in those lads in full force. A second place would be decent position yet they will seek from the start to push for the apex. My bet would be a second or third place should the worst come to be. Should a good start herald their Brazil arrival- a final place can’t be ruled out.
Coach; Stephen Keshi
‘’The Big Boss” as we in Africa love to refer to him is a man whose defied the odds with this team. Written off by pundits and fans alike before the 2013 AFCON this January- he chose a squad he believed in and continues to show that with proper belief and determination results will not be hard to come by. The 2013 Confederations Cup will act as a dress rehearsal to the 2014 World Cup but for this coach it should act as a tour as he hopes to make the real journey with the Super Eagles sometime next year.
Enyeama (Maccabi Tel-Aviv), Ejide (Hapoel Petah Tikva), Agbim (Enugu Rangers)
A few Israeli friends of mine joke about having representatives at this Year’s Confederations Cup but I guess they mean these two goalkeepers (Enyeama and Ejide) who all play in Israeli Clubs. My bet for Keshi of course would be Enyeama, who in every tourney noticeably sheds a tear whenever Nigeria gets knocked out. A leader on the pitch, stand in captain in the absence of Yobo- bet on him to start in between the posts.
Good to see Agbim earn a call-up, a true test of the coach’s belief in upbringing local talent which can later step up in tourney’s like CHAN.
Oboabona (Sunshine Stars), Echiejile (Sporting Braga), Ambrose (Celtic), Egwuekwe (Warri Wolves), Kwambe (Sunshine Stars), Benjamin (Heartland FC), Omeruo (ADO Den Haag)
Keshi has been consistent in his choice of defenders over the last three matches (Mexico, Kenya & Namibia) and this he hopes will reap dividends when the Super Eagles grace the Brazilian pitches. Celtic Star Efe Ambroce should be an outright pick for Right back, his work rate is desirable and ability to move forward for the attack brings an extra dimension to the Nigerian backline. Omeruo and Echiejile one of the stars of the 2013 AFCON should partner in the centre of defence. At right back Oboabona the latest scorer and the newest scorer for the Super Eagles (against Namibia) should be a sure start but might at times give way for a substitute.
Keshi seems to be killing two birds with one stone by bringing in Benjamin (age 20), Egwuekwe (age 24), Kwambe (age 19) – another choice for me when the CHAN finally comes around but for the Confederations should be glad to play second fiddle.
Ogu (Coimbra), Mikel (Chelsea), Ogude (Valerenga), Onazi (Lazio), Eze (Enugu Rangers), Mba (Enugu Rangers)
The holy trio of Onazi, Mikel and Mba just as they lined up for that beautiful final that brought glory to Nigeria should be Keshi’s trusted bet having in mind he’s used them for the past one month or so more often and wouldn’t want to break the fluidity and trust they’ve built around each other.
Mikel having the confidence of Echiejile and Omeruo behind him would be expected to move forward especially in matches where they are not pressed back to defend often. Mba as well documented in the AFCON Final might just come to the party again- accused of only scoring on Sundays- should Nigeria get to the final bet on him to score.
Eze, Ogu and Ogude should be glad to play second fiddle but with Emeka Eze hoping to get his second Cap- get ready for some surprise should the first three not turn up when called upon.
Musa (CSKA Moscow), Ideye (Dynamo Kiev), Akpala (Werder Bremen), Gambo (Kano Pillars), Ujah (Koln), Babatunde (FC Kryvbas), Oduamadi (AS Varese).
Powerful front line in all aspects characterised by a mixture of international experience and local firepower; Musa should start on the right wing while on the left should be Brown Ideye. Idey already having 21 goals to his name for club needs to step up to the plate in the absence of AFCON wonder boy Emenike who’s injured.
A little help might be needed in the left side which best fits FC Kryvbas’ Babtumbe while the Centre forward position in the absence of Chelsea Star Victor Moses should feature AC Milan boy currently on loan at AS Varese Oduamadi. Scored a powerful equaliser against Kenya and Keshi would be glad to see his bravery again in the Confederations. Powerful NPL star Gambo- a man with over 100 goals in Nigeria should step up when called upon and what a cheer across Kano when he finally gets that chance.
Does Nigeria have the firepower to bully their way to the Confederations Semi-Finals? Surely yes- an outright win against one of the teams and a draw should be enough to see them through but with that said and done, Can Africa’s Belief once again be anchored wholly on one country to bring home the confederations? We are all here to see- A fight for second place; with all due respect not the first should be worthy. 2014 is around the corner and the African Champions hope it won’t be the last time in 12 months they’ll be in Brazil.
Coach; Eddy Etaeta
Such a mouthful of a name but what a coach; managing a side full of part time footballers, going on to win the OFC Nations Cup is no mean feat. While he may not fancy winning the tournament or making a journey back to Brazil next year, the school teacher will hope the exposure to high standards of the game will help his players and country get noticed in the map of World Football.
Roche (AS Dragon), Meriel (AS Central Sport), Samin (AS Tefana)
Roche Mickael might have started the 2012 OFC Nations Cup as the number 1 choice keeper but Samin ended up the hero. Xavin Samin having been picked from the third match and going on to keep a clean sheet against the dreaded Oceaninc Solomon Islands has since then started in goal for Tahiti even at the World Cup Qualifiers. Safe bet to start between the sticks as Meriel who once deputised Samin at Club gets his spot on the bench.
Ludivion (AS Tefana), Wagemann (AS Dragon), Faatiarau (AS Tefana), Vallar (AS Dragon), Lemaire (AS Dragon), Simon (AS Dragon), Vero (AS Dragon)
This is a tough one to crack but having in mind that most defenders who took part in the OFC Nations Cup have been dropped, the time for Captain Valaar to lead from the front as he seeks to push from the back alongside Ludivion to stamp their authority on that Central defence has come. The left back position should be safe in the hands of Vero while the right should be manned by Simon- Notice lots of AS Dragon lads on that backline.
AS Dragon trio of Wagemann and Lemaire alongside Faatiarau (AS Tefana) should be contented with a name on the bench as they seek to push for positions during their stay in Brazil.
Caroine (AS Dragon), Bourebare (AS Dragon), Atani (AS Tefana), Aroita (AS Tamarii), L. Tehau (AS Tefana), Aitamai (AS Venus), J. Tehau (AS Tamarii)
Mr Bourebare traditionally plays the anchor role as L. Tehau runs the right wing. In the absence of Tchen- th coach has a tough decision to make. He’s lucky to have Aroita though to call on but age and experience might be a factor. J Tehau on the other hand wouldn’t mind a role but Caroine might have to content with the Bench from the tourney’s kick off. For the hole right behind the strikers Atani is the most preferred and the confederations cup will be another tournament to watch this beauty of a player.
ATehau (AS Tefana), Vahirua (Nancy), T. Tehau (AS Venus), Chong Hue (AS Dragon), Tihoni (AS Roniu), Hnanyine (AS Dragon).
Vahirua might be the only foreign based player in this squad, but appearing for Nancy in the French League doesn’t mean an automatic berth. At age 33, should he feature in Brazil it will be his first ever cap for the team as coach Etaeta will be looking at Chong’ Hue and T. Tehau to get the goals. Tihoni, A. Tehau might be called up for duty but that remains the preserve of the coach.
Nobody needs to be pitiful when thinking about this team- they’ve deserved to be here and that in itself remains an achievement. Tahiti might not be able to make to the top of the group, might not be able to match the Spaniards, the Nigerian’s or even the Uruguayans but what they lack in quality they’ll for sure match in Unity. A tour like earlier said is in the offing but a lifetime opportunity of pride will forever be etched in their memories. A last place finish in the group might be likely but a 3rd place surprise would be a heavenly welcome.