Confederations Cup Preview: Group A

Hosts Russia, New Zealand, Mexico and European champions Portugal battle it out in Group A of the 2017 Confederations Cup, but could any of these teams lift the trophy next month?

This is the first part of our Confederations Cup preview here on Balls and Brawls on who could be the players to watch out for in Russia and some predictions on how far the eight nations will get in the tournament.


MEXICO

Mexico qualified for the Confederations Cup by winning the CONCACAF Cup in 2015, where Paul Aguilar scored a 118th minute winner in a 3-2 win over USA after extra time.

This is their seventh time competing in the tournament. They are also previous winners of the competition having beaten Brazil 4-3 in the final on home soil in 1999.

Key Player: Javier Hernandez

Former Man United striker Javier Hernandez recently became Mexico’s all time leading goalscorer and Chicharito will be hoping to continue his fine form by helping his nation to a second Confederations Cup.

The 28-year-old’s goal in a 2-1 loss to Croatia last month saw the Bayer Leverkusen forward secure his 47th international goal, breaking the record previously set by Jared Borgetti.

Hernandez has also been impressive for his German club Leverkusen in the past couple of seasons, including 13 last campaign as rumours of a move back to the Premier League circulate. A strong showing in Russia and that interest will only grow in the Mexican striker.

Javier Hernandez is Meixco’s all time leading goalscorer
image: espnfc.com

Squad

Goalkeepers: Guillermo Ochoa (Granada), Alfredo Talavera (Deportivo Toluca), Rodolfo Cota (Chivas Guadalajara)

Defenders: Diego Reyes (Espanyol), Nestor Araujo (Santos Laguna), Carlos Salcedo (Fiorentina), Hector Moreno (PSV Eindhoven), Luis Reyes, Rafael Marquez (both Atlas)

Midfielders: Andres Guardado (PSV Eindhoven), Jonathan dos Santos (Villarreal), Oswaldo Alanis (Chivas Guadalajara), Miguel Layun, Hector Herrera (both Porto), Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy), Carlos Vela (Real Sociedad), Javier Aquino (Tigres)

Forwards: Marco Fabian (Eintracht Frankfurt), Javier Hernandez (Bayer Leverkusen), Raul Jimenez (Benfica), Hirving Lozano (Pachuca), Oribe Peralta (Club America)

Prediction: Semi Finalists

There is something that tells me that Mexico could be the dark horses of the Confederations Cup, but I am certain that the CONCACAF Gold Cup winners will at least make the final four in Russia.

Striker Hernandez is a wanted man and will be out to impress potential suitors, while Mexico also have some very talented players in other areas of the park, such as PSV pair midfielder Andres Guardado and defender Hector Moreno.

Their match against Portugal will decide they emerge group winners or not, but I think they will have to settle for second behind Ronaldo and co. A potential semi-final against Germany might be too much for this side to overcome to reach the final.


NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand qualified for the Confederations Cup by winning the OFC Nations Cup for a fifth time in 2016, securing their place in Russia with a penalty shootout win over Papa New Guinea.

New Zealand have played in the Confederations Cup on three previous occasions (1999, 2003 and 2009), but they have still yet to make it out of the group stages in the tournament.

One to Watch: Marco Rojas 

New Zealand are not expected to cause any impact at the Confederations Cup but with a young squad heading to Russia, one of their young guns hoping to catch the eye is striker Marco Rojas.

The 25-year-old headed back down under last year to sign for Melbourne Victory after a disappointing spell with German side Stuttgart and immediately hit the ground running making quite the impact in the Australian A-League.

Rojas was named Oceania footballer of the year in 2012 and after three years away he picked up where he left off, scoring nine goals and making seven assists in a strong first half to the season and he will be hoping to keep the good form going in Russia.

Marco Rojas scored 12 goals for Melbourne Victory last season
image: stuff.co.nz

Squad

Goalkeepers: Stefan Marinovic (Unterhaching), Tamati Williams (Waalwijk), Glen Moss (Newcastle Jets)

Defenders: Andrew Durante, Thomas Doyle (both Wellington Phoenix), Storm Roux (Central Coast Mariners), Michael Boxall (SuperSport United), Kip Colvey (San Jose Earthquakes), Themi Tzimopoulos (Giannina), Deklan Wynne (Vancouver Whitecaps), Sam Brotherton (Sunderland), Tommy Smith (Ipswich), Dane Ingham (Brisbane Roar)

Midfielders: Bill Tuiloma (Marseille), Clayton Lewis (Auckland City), Michael McGlinchey (Wellington Phoenix), Ryan Thomas (PEC Zwolle)

Forwards: Chris Wood (Leeds), Monty Patterson (Ipswich), Shane Smeltz (Borneo), Kosta Barbarouses, Alex Rufer (both Wellington Phoenix), Marco Rojas (Melbourne Victory)

Prediction: Group stages

New Zealand have never made it out of the group stages in their three previous Confederations Cup appearances and while I think they are destined to stay in the group once again, he should give a good account of themselves.

The Kiwis gave a good account of themselves at the World Cup in 2010 and might snatch a draw or two in Russia, as they do normally build their team around a solid defence and good work ethic.

However, they don’t have star defender Winston Reid with them for the trip to Russia and might end up going home with three losses on the board. I think Anthony Hudson’s side will finish fourth in group A.


PORTUGAL

Portugal qualified for the 2017 Confederations Cup by defeating France in last July’s European Championship final as Eder scored the only goal in a 1-0 extra time victory over the hosts.

This is the first time Portugal will compete in the Confederations Cup, after last year’s Euro 2016 victory marked the first time they ever won silverware at the major tournament.

Key Player: Cristiano Ronaldo

When it comes to naming Portugal’s star man, no else comes to mind than Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, who just seems to be getting better and better after another sensational season from the former Man United attacker.

It has been a sensational twelve months for the 32-year-old having won Euro 2016 with Portugal last summer, he collected a fourth Ballon D’or and recently lifted the La Liga and a second Champions League in a row with Real Madrid.

His goalscoring record is incredible surpassing 600 for club and country this season, breaking Jimmy Greaves record of becoming all-time top-scorer in the top five European leagues and became the first man to score over 100 goals in the Champions League.

Cristiano Ronaldo became the first man to score in three Champions League finals
image: si.com

Squad

Goalkeepers: Rui Patricio, Beto (both Sporting), Jose Sa (Porto)

Defenders: Nelson Semedo, Eliseu (both Benfica), Cedric Soares (Southampton), Pepe (Real Madrid), Bruno Alves (Cagliari), Luis Neto (Zenit), Jose Fonte (West Ham), Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund)

Midfielders: William Carvalho, Adrien Silva (both Sporting), Danilo (Porto), Joao Moutinho, Bernardo Silva (both Monaco), Pizzi (Benfica), Andre Gomes (Barcelona)

Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Ricardo Quaresma (Besiktas), Gelson Martins (Sporting), Andre Silva (Porto), Nani (Valencia)

Prediction: Champions

With Real Madrid attacker Ronaldo leading the way, the Euro 2016 winners Portugal will no doubt be one of the favourites to lift the trophy on their debut. However, is the world’s best player really pushed about winning the Confederations Cup.

This tournament will probably not high on Ronaldo’s career goals but nevertheless, Portugal are sending a pretty decent squad to Russia, with new Man City signing Bernardo Silva and Porto’s Andre Silva also one’s to keep an eye on.

I think Portugal should come out on top in group A and emerge victorious in a potential semi-final meeting with Chile. A Portugal vs Germany final would be a close call, but I think Portugal can go the whole way and win thier second trophy in the past year.


RUSSIA

Since 2005, the Confederations Cup has been held in the country that will host the World Cup in the following year. Just like the World Cup, Russia automatically qualify as host nation.

Like Portugal, this is Russia’s first time competing in a Confederations Cup tournament. Three host countries have won the Confederations Cup – Mexico 1999, France 2003 and Brazil 2013.

One to Watch: Fyodor Smolov

Hots Russia are missing key men in their Confederations Cup such as striker Artem Dzyuba and playmaker Alan Dzagoev, so one man hoping to step up and cause an impact on home soil is Krasnodar striker Fyodor Smolov.

The 27-year-old enjoyed a great season for Krasnodar banging in 18 goals to help his club to a fourth place finish in the Russian Premier League, also picking up the award of top goalscorer for the second season running.

The Russian’s are not expected to cause any upsets in the Confederations Cup but they will at least hope to acquit themselves well. They will want to give their home crowd something to cheer for and hopefully a few goals from Smolov will keep the fans happy.

Fyodor Smolov has scored 48 goals in two seasons at Krasnodar
image: fifa.com

Squad

Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Gabulov (Arsenal Tula), Guilherme (Lokomotiv Moscow)

Defenders: Georgy Dzhikiya, Dmitry Kombarov, Ilya Kutepov (all Spartak Moscow), Fyodor Kudryashov (Rostov),  Roman Shishkin (Krasnodar), Igor Smolnikov (Zenit), Viktor Vasin (CSKA Moscow)

Midfielders: Yuri Gazinsky (Krasnodar), Denis Glushakov, Alexander Samedov (both Spartak Moscow), Alexander Golovin (CSKA Moscow), Alexei Miranchuk, Dmitry Tarasov (both Lokomotiv Moscow), Alexander Yerokhin (Rostov), Yuri Zhirkov (Zenit), Ruslan Kambolov (Rubin Kazan)

Forwards: Alexander Bukharov, Dmitry Poloz (both Rostov), Maxim Kannunikov (Rubin Kazan), Fyodor Smolov (Krasnodar)

Prediction: Group Stages

Just like I think it will be at next summer’s World Cup, I think it is going to be a struggle for Russia to make it out of the group stages at the Confederations Cup.

Russia have struggled under head coach  Stanislav Cherchesov, who took over last August after a disappointing Euro 2016 campaign, with just two wins in seven games under his leadership.

They are also missing key players such as Dzagoev and Dyzuba, but I am sure this team will give it a go. I think they will end up finishing third in the group but if Portugal and Mexico are not bothered about the tournament, they could sneak into the semi-finals.

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