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Worrall: Chelsea march to glory

Chelsea 17 hours ago
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Jun 8, 2009

Confederations Cup 2009

Since 1997, the Confederations Cup (in its current format) has pitted the top ranked teams in each federation against each other in a tournament that is more than just a test of World Cup facilities.

The competition is contested by the winners of each of the six FIFA confederation championships (CAF, CONMEBOL, UEFA, AFC, OFC, CONCACAF), along with the FIFA World Cup winner (Italy), and the host country (South Africa.)

And this year should see a thrilling contest. With the likes of current champions Brazil, Italy and Spain involved there is bound to be a good standard of football, while the U.S, Iraq and Egypt could spring a few surprises.

Host nation South Africa and minnows New Zealand are unlikely to make waves but, in the build up to the 2010 World Cup, all the teams will be keen to set down markers for their potential success next summer. Below is a team-by-team guide for the tournament, which culminates in the final at Ellis Park on June 28.


GROUP A

SOUTH AFRICA
Nearly half of Joel Santana's squad plays in South Africa's Premier Soccer League, so the decision to drop Blackburn striker Benni McCarthy seems odd as Bafana Bafana failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup or African Cup of Nations in Angola. Mounting criticism and a lack of confidence may hinder their progress and they will struggle to assert themselves, as just two teams have won the trophy on home soil.

QUALIFICATION: Hosts.
COACH: Joel Santana.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Steven Pienaar. With McCarthy out of the side, all eyes will be on the tricky Everton winger. Off the back of a great season in England, the midfielder should be a constant attacking threat.
PREDICTION: Group Stage.

SPAIN
One of the best performing teams in the world at the moment, the European champions are currently undefeated in 31 games, since February 2007. Playing fast, attacking football, the Spanish have a great spine of talent including Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Xavi and David Villa and are a joy to watch. They are probably favourites for the title and will take some stopping in what appears to be a very easy group for them.

QUALIFICATION: 2008 European Championships.
COACH: Vicente Del Bosque.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Fernando Torres. Having spent a vast majority of Liverpool's season on the sidelines, El Nino should be fighting fit and in top form for his country. A worrying prospect for the rest of the teams.
PREDICTION: Winners.

IRAQ
Probably their biggest moment on the international stage, given that their last major appearance was in Mexico 1986, Iraq will be keen to show the world what they can do. Having faced some difficult times of late, their football side won the 2007 AFC Asian Cup, but failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. Coach Bora Milutinovic has only been there since April, but has vast experience and his side may cause a shock or two.

QUALIFICATION: 2007 AFC Asian Cup.
COACH: Bora Milutinovic.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Nashat Akram. Showing great vision and a strong mental game, the 24-year-old playmaker is a vital part of the Iraqi side and starred in their Asian Cup win. Steve McClaren has just snapped him up for FC Twente.
PREDICTION: Semi-finals.

NEW ZEALAND
In their third competition, New Zealand have yet to rack up any points in the group stages. The minnows of Oceania are massive underdogs as most of their side are predominantly Wellington-based and not regulars in a high-quality league. Blackburn Rovers defender Ryan Nelson is a big miss and Celtic's Chris Killen is the jewel in an otherwise unspectacular crown, so don't expect the All Whites to challenge anyone but South Africa.

QUALIFICATION: 2008 Oceania Nations Cup.
COACH: Ricki Herbert.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Shane Smeltz. The A-League Player of the Year has notched up 12 goals for Wellington Phoenix and set a new record for NZ by scoring in six consecutive matches. Also keep an eye out for 17-year-old West Brom striker Chris Wood.
PREDICTION: Group Stage.


GROUP B

UNITED STATES
Drawn in a very tough group, it will be hard for the U.S. to compete with the likes of Italy or Brazil. Steve Cherundolo's hip injury leaves them a little short in defence and coach Bob Bradley has still to resolve the ongoing problem at left back; but it is the U.S side's fourth appearance in the competition and they have finished third on two occasions, so their fans will have high expectations.

QUALIFICATION: 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
COACH: Bob Bradley.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Landon Donovan. After a brief flirtation with Bayern Munich, the striker returned to the L.A. Galaxy where he bagged five goals in nine games at the start of the MLS season to cement his reputation as one of the U.S' finest.
PREDICTION: Group Stage.

ITALY
With their trademark, tough defensive style, the Italians are in the sights of the other sides as they are the current World Champions. The Azzurri are once again guided by Marcello Lippi, the man that led them to that title, but their ageing squad is in need of freshening up. Making their debut in the competition, Italy still have a great squad, full of experienced professionals who will be right at home among the world's best.

QUALIFICATION: 2006 World Cup.
COACH: Marcello Lippi.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Luca Toni. With just 13 goals for Bayern Munich this season the giant frontman will be keen to show his calibre in South Africa. His form at Euro 2008 was disappointing, but he certainly has the ability to prove his critics wrong.
PREDICTION: Semi-finals - Third Place.

BRAZIL
The 2005 winners of the Confederations Cup are the most successful side in the competition as they also won it in 1997, but only one team has ever defended their title. Under Dunga, Brazil have received a fair bit of criticism, but have some exceptionally talented players and now look a strong defensive unit as well as having their trademark flair. Although there is no Ronaldinho or Ronaldo, it is a chance for the new breed to shine.

QUALIFICATION: 2007 Copa America.
COACH: Dunga.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Alexandre Pato. After a great season with AC Milan, Pato is improving in leaps and bounds and has all the tools at his disposal to cause the opposition defences many problems.
PREDICTION: Losing finalists.

EGYPT The best team in Africa at the moment, the Pharoahs have won back-to-back African Nations Cups and are a very consistent side. Hassan Shehata has instilled a great team spirit - notably dropping Mido from his squad - and the big boys will have to be on their game if they are to overcome them. They do not have the best record in global competitions, but will be keen to prove themselves on the world stage.

QUALIFICATION: 2008 African Nations Cup.
COACH: Hassan Shehata.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Mohamed Aboutrika. A real talent, the midfielder has been a threat for the Pharoah's in both goals and assists and came second in the 2008 African Footballer of the Year award.
PREDICTION: Group Stage.

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