The 2017 Confederations Cup is right around the corner.
The pre-tournament before the 2018 World Cup will feature some of the best teams in the world, and here we present you a comprehensive preview of Group A, which features Russia, Portugal, New Zealand, and Mexico. The reigning European champions are favourites on paper, but no one can discard the hosts or El Tri.
Russia qualified to the tournament as the host nation, and this tournament will be a big test for them both on and off the pitch. The players must show they are ready to compete with the big boys only one year away from the World Cup, but the country needs to show they are prepared as well.
Stanislav Cherchesov’s men have gone through an extensive preparation period, and played to a 1-1 draw against Chile in Moscow last week. They certainly have an interesting squad, and have managed to combine youth and experience. Established stars such as Igor Akinfeev, Yuri Zhirkov, and Alexander Samedov will lead the team. But younger elements such as Aleksandr Golovin, Igor Smolnikov, and Viktor Vasin are worth watching as well.
One player to watch in Russia is Fedor Smolov. The 27-year-old forward has 21 caps and seven goals for Russia, but he led the Russian Premier League in scoring last season with 18 goals for Krasnodar.
There is no question New Zealand are the weakest side not only in Group A, but in the entire tournament. The departure of Australia from the OFC transformed The All Whites into the top side in the Oceanic region. And once again they will participate in the competition after winning the 2016 OFC Nations Cup.
Anthony Hudson named quite a strong team, even though that might not be enough to pull an upset. But if there is one thing that is noticeable, is that New Zealand players are playing more and more overseas. In fact, the squad for this tournament features only six players from their local league. They have elements featuring in prominent leagues such as the English Championship, the French Ligue 1, and the German Bundesliga 2. That is a clear sign of progress for the country.
One player to watch in the tournament is Shane Smeltz. The 35-year-old veteran currently plays for Borneo FC in the Indonesian Liga 1, but there is no question he is a relevant element for the side. He has 24 goals in 53 caps for the All Whites, and is only five goals away from becoming the country’s all-time top scorer.
Portugal arrive to the Confederations Cup as one of the favourites to lift the trophy. The team came out on top in the EURO 2016, and they will try to repeat their success on Russian soil. Led by the inspiring presence of Cristiano Ronaldo and surrounded by a talented supporting cast, the sky is their limit.
Even though Fernando Santos won’t have Joao Mario – who will miss the tournament with an injury – Portugal have one of the deepest, most talented teams in the competition. Leaving Cristiano Ronaldo aside, the reigning European champions feature a strong defensive line, a talented midfield, and an attacking line that would strike fear in any opponent.
Ronaldo is the obvious choice as the player to watch in Portugal, but he is not the only one. Bernando Silva is coming off a career year for AS Monaco, and has been transferred to Manchester City. Andre Silva joined AC Milan following a stellar season in FC Porto. Nani and Ricardo Quaresma are two of the most skilled wingers in Europe. And the defensive line of Pepe and Bruno Alves will be a tough challenge for anyone.
Juan Carlos Osorio’s men had to battle against the United States for a berth in the 2017 Confederations Cup, but came out on top and will represent the CONCACAF region once again.
Mexico will feature a very strong side. Rafa Marquez is the unquestionable leader of the side thanks to his 38 years of age, but now they possess something they have lacked in the past: international experience. Mexico had most of their players featuring in the Liga MX, but that is not the case anymore. Several Mexican-born players feature regularly in Europe, and that could be a difference-maker for them.
Los Aztecas will have a huge absence, though. Porto’s playmaker Jesus Manuel Corona withdrawn from the squad due to personal reasons, and will not participate in the tournament. Jurgen Damm will take his place, but there is no question Corona’s absence will hurt the reigning CONCACAF Champions.
One player to watch in the Mexican outfit is Hector Herrera. The FC Porto playmaker is the one who keeps the team going from his central midfield position. He’s coming off another strong year in Portugal, and how well he performs with Andres Guardado will be key for Mexico. If those two are on a good day, then El Tri could suddenly become a tough matchup for anyone.
There is no doubt Portugal appears as the favourite to top the group. Mexico and Russia are tough opponents, but Portugal is clearly the better side. Expect them to cruise their way into the semifinals rather easily.
The battle for the second place gets a bit more complicated. All signs indicate the game between Russia and Mexico will be key to decide both teams’ fate in the tournament. Russia have the advantage of playing at home, but Mexico should not be underestimated. The CONCACAF champions have a very talented team even with the absence of Corona, one of their best playmakers.
I reckon Portugal and Mexico will advance, with Russia finishing third and New Zealand at the bottom.
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