The FIFA Confederations Cup 2017 kicks off tomorrow in Russia and it will feature eight teams comprising six continental champions, the world champions, and the host country. Portugal, Germany, Chile, Cameroon, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and Russia will be competing for the title Brazil won in 2015 and they will be bringing most of their big hitters (well, except the Germans who will be coming with a fairly different and young team). Alexis Sanchez, Julian Draxler, Vincent Aboubakar and Igor Akinfeev are some of the big names expected to add shine to the quadrennial event. I will be previewing all eight teams and the key men to keep an eye out for in each team for the next two weeks.
Germany’s midfielder Julian Draxler playing during the WC 2018 football qualification match between Germany and Northern Ireland. AFP PHOTO / Patrik STOLLARZ
Star Player: Julian Draxler
The World champions have come under some criticism going into the Confederations Cup after manager Joachim Low named a weakened squad for the tournament. They qualified as World champions and the priority for their manager is for his players to be fresh enough for the main event in a year’s time in Russia. He also wants to use it as an opportunity to test some younger prospects. This will be their third appearance at the tournament after appearing in 1999 and hosting it in 2005. The star man for them will be PSG’s Julian Draxler, who with 29 Caps will be the most experienced player in the side. He is also their captain and the tricky midfield schemer will be important to the chances of ‘Die Mannschaft’.
Chile’s footballer Alexis Sanchez takes part in a training session in Santiago, on March 21, 2017 ahead of their FIFA World Cup South American qualifier matches against Argentina and Venezuela. CLAUDIO REYES / AFP
Star Players: Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sanchez
La Roja will be making their debut at the tournament at this edition in Russia and will be one of the favourites to go all the way. They qualified for it by winning the 2016 Copa America Centenario final. Since then, they have somewhat struggled in World Cup qualification, and are in danger of missing out on the 2018 World Cup in Russia. They are currently fourth in qualification—the first fourth in a tight qualification group. Arturo Vidal is the country’s biggest star and their key man. He is well known for his physical play, technical ability, tactical awareness and leadership. Alexis Sanchez is also a player that you will ignore at your own peril. He has scored 36 goals for his country and is just a goal behind their all-time top scorer, Marcelo Salas, who has 37 goals.
Russia’s forward Fedor Smolov controls the ball during a friendly football match between Russia and Chile at the CSKA Arena in Moscow on June 9, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Natalia KOLESNIKOVA
Star Player: Fedor Smolov
They qualified for the tournaments as hosts of the 2018 FIFA World Cup and this will be their first ever appearance at this event. They will want to make a huge splash as hosts and to also show that they are ready to finally realise the potential they have always possessed to be counted among one of the best teams in world football. They will take this very seriously because it will be the last set of competitive games for them before the World Cup kicks off next year. They have been drawn with New Zealand, Portugal and Mexico and anything short of a semi-final appearance will be seen as a failure by the Russian public. In the absence of Artem Dzyuba and Alan Dzagoev, the undoubted star of the squad and the man to watch for the Russians will be FC Krasnodar’s Fedor Smolov. The 27-year-old forward has a knack for goals. He can score in a variety of ways, often needing only one touch thanks to his good positioning in the penalty box.
Cameroon’s forward Vincent Aboubakar celebrates after scoring the team’s second goal during the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations final football match between Egypt and Cameroon at the Stade de l’Amitie Sino-Gabonaise in Libreville on February 5, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / ISSOUF SANOGO
Star Player: Vincent Aboubakar
The African champions were the last team to qualify for this tournament by virtue of winning the 2017 AFCON which was held in Gabon in January. This is the third tournament for the Indomitable Lions, who have taken part in the 2001 and 2003 editions. They finished as runners-up in the 2003 edition, which will always be remembered as the tournament where they lost one of their greatest midfielders, Marc-Vivien Foe, who slumped and died in the semi-final match against Colombia. They are a very young side and are capable of causing an upset if taken for granted by their opponents. Vincent Aboubakar is their biggest star and will be their danger man in Russia.
Massimo Corey Luongo of Australia shoots on goal during the friendly international football match between Brazil and Australia in Melbourne on June 13, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Mal Fairclough / IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE
Star Player: Massimo Luongo
The Socceroos qualified for the Confederations Cup by hosting and winning the 2015 AFC Asian Cup. In order to develop football in their country, they switched from the OFC to the more competitive AFC and it seemed to have been the right decision as they have qualified for the last three World Cups. This will be their fourth appearance at this tournament and they will be hoping to go one better than their runners-up finish in 1999, but realistically a semi-final place will be seen as a huge success for the team. Midfielder, Massimo Luongo will be the man to watch for the Australian. The QPR man won the player of the tournament award at the 2015 AFC Cup and will be key for the Australians in Russia.
Country: New Zealand
Star Player: Chris Woods
Oceania’s representatives, New Zealand qualified for the tournament by winning the OFC Nations Cup in Papua New Guinea last year. This will be their fourth appearance at the event and they are yet to get a win in nine attempts at this competition, so one of their basic aims in Russia will be to get a win. Their record at this competition is very abysmal with just one draw in nine games and only two goals scored while conceding 24 goals. Leeds United’s striker, Chris Woods will be the man to watch out for in this squad. The 25-year-old scored 30 goals for the Championship club this past season and will lead the New Zealand attack in this competition.
You can read more about the players to watch out for at the Confederation Cup here.