JOHANNESBURG - A Pacific island and a four-time FIFA World Cup-winning nation joined the qualifiers for the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup over the past month, with the tournament now just anticipating an African participant to complete what is a intriguing line-up of teams from around the globe.
Seven countries have pencilled the dates 15-30 June into their diary ahead of next year’s competition in Brazil, with the hosts, reigning world champions Spain and the team positioned second in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, Uruguay, leading a stellar cast which also includes Italy, Japan, Mexico and Tahiti.
Africa’s representative will be decided at the 2013 CAF Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa next January/February.
Brazil is currently locked in preparation on two fronts, readying the country for hosting the FIFA Confederations Cup and the FIFA World Cup a year later, as well as honing young talents such as Neymar for A Selecao’s assault on a sixth triumph on the biggest stage of all.
Brazil supporters will be expecting Mano Menezes and his men to keep the FIFA Confederations Cup on home soil first, however, and history is undoubtedly on their side.
The hosts have won the competition on three occasions, more than any other team, including the last two editions.
Dunga was at the helm when Brazil were crowned champions at South Africa 2009 following a dramatic 3-2 comeback victory over USA in the Johannesburg final, while Carlos Alberto Parreira was in charge when old foes Argentina were defeated 4-1 to take the 2005 trophy.
Spain set the standard
Three years ago, Brazil were expected to face Spain in the showpiece only for La Roja to suffer the rarest of competitive defeats in their semi-final against USA.
Having recovered from that disappointment to lift the FIFA World Cup Trophy a year later, Vicente del Bosque will again take his side to the FIFA Confederations Cup and look to continue a run of unprecedented success in international football.
After years of near misses and heartbreaking eliminations, the Spaniards began their domination at UEFA EURO 2008, where they were crowned European champions, and followed that up in 2010 with their first-ever FIFA World Cup.
A 4-0 thrashing of Italy in Sunday’s EURO 2012 final sealed a third consecutive major international title for Spain, who will therefore enter next year’s warm-up for the FIFA World Cup as firm favourites.
With Spain automatically qualifying as world champions, Italy’s run to the EURO final and runners-up spot earned them Europe’s second ticket to the FIFA Confederations Cup.
Despite falling at the last hurdle, Gli Azzurri can reflect on a memorable tournament which showed much-improved performance after their below-par 2010 FIFA World Cup campaign and group-stage exit at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup.
The first team to qualify for Brazil 2013 through competitive action were Japan, who booked their place as the AFC representative after winning the 2011 AFC Asian Cup in January last year.
An extra-time winner from Tadanari Lee against Australia cemented Japan’s claim to be the continent’s finest, an argument strengthened by their impressive performance in 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying to date.
Four times previously the Blue Samurai have participated in the FIFA Confederations Cup, with a contrasting record to say the least.
On three occasions they were knocked out at the group stage, but in 2001, when Japan were co-hosts along with Korea Republic, French coach Philippe Troussier guided the team to a 1-0 final defeat by his home nation.
Mexico will fly the flag for CONCACAF next year after they edged USA 4-2 in a sensational Gold Cup final 12 months ago.
El Tri, spurred by the talents of Giovani dos Santos and Javier Hernandez, won all six of their games at the tournament, scoring 22 goals in the process to secure a sixth invitation to the FIFA Confederations Cup.
The Mexicans have pedigree at the event too, winning as hosts in 1999 plus finishing third and fourth in 1995 and 2005 respectively.
Uruguay ready to defy the odds
Since finishing fourth at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Uruguay have been one of the most consistent national teams around, rising to second behind Spain in the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.
La Celeste have silverware to add tangible proof of their ability too, having claimed the 2011 Copa America title.
The triumph in Argentina was Uruguay’s 15th victory in the South American competition and ensured a return to the FIFA Confederations Cup after a 16-year absence.
Every tournament has to have a fairytale and the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup will be no different, due to the historic qualification of Tahiti.
The Pacific Island nation emerged victorious from last month’s OFC Nations Cup in the Solomon Islands, breaking the stranglehold of Australia and New Zealand by beating New Caledonia 1-0 in the final.
Though they will be massive underdogs, Tahiti can now look forward to testing their skills against the cream of world football.
The eighth and final contender for Brazil 2013 will be decided on 10 February 2013 at Soccer City when the 2013 CAF Africa Cup of Nations final takes place.
Record champions Egypt have again failed to qualify for the continental competition, but 2010 FIFA World Cup quarter-finalists Ghana and holders Zambia will be among those trying to join what will be a festival of football in Brazil a year from now.