If you were to only take one thing away from the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, the tournament that serves as a precursor to next year's 2014 FIFA World Cup, it would be that Brazil has solidified itself as the team to beat next year. And it won't be easy. In the group stage, Brazil efficiently took care of business against Japan, Mexico, and Italy, teams that are not slouches and should all be present in the 2014 field, racking up a GF/GA ratio of 9-2. Neymar, the newest recipient of the infamous Brazil no. 10 jersey, lived up to the hype. Fred, his counterpart on attack, actually won the golden boot for most goals scored in the tournament. Hulk looked dangerous at times. Julio Cesar, recently signed by Arsenal, looked sharp. And the back four, considered to be Brazil's weakness, conceded a whopping total of 3 goals over 5 games. Oh, and last but not least, they humiliated defending World and European Champion Spain in a manner that signaled nothing short of the changing of the guard in world footballing. The enduring storyline to take away from this tournament is that Brazil emphatically announced to the world that they are ready to taste glory come June 2014.
Somewhat quietly, Italy also can be deemed a winner in this tournament. Why? Well, although they prove it tournament after tournament to the dismay of fans and analysts alike, Italy has once again shown that they will be contenders in 2014. Whilst just looking at the statistics, it would appear that Italy had an average tournament--scoring about as many goals as they conceded and finishing in 3rd place below teams in Brazil and Spain that they will have to go through in order to win the World Cup. But what Italy proved is that they will score in 2014, and a number of guys can do it. Balotelli, De Rossi, Giovinco, Maggio, and the ageless Pirlo all put the ball in the net or at least looked dangerous. El Shaarawy and Gilardino have shown at the club level that they can do so. Di Natale, who had a stellar year for Serie A side Udinese, didn't make the trip but will certainly have chances at goal in 2014. Where Italy surprisingly struggled in this tournament was on defense, but that is something that one would expect a disciplined and veteran defensive midfield and backline to correct over the course of the next year. This is a team to watch out for in 2014. Over the last decade Italy has won by playing disciplined, defensive-minded football; one can expect the same after a year of adjustments, but they now have a formidable attacking game to work with as well.
Tahiti was the 'feel good' story of the tournament and speaks to the allure of having a Confederations Cup in the form of a tournament in which every confederation is represented. Yes, that includes Oceania and, yes, that is why we had the privilege of seeing the Tahiti national team on television for perhaps the most memorable 270 minutes of their players' lives. The majority of the team is either unemployed or have jobs as professional fruit tree climbers. What Tahiti showed was the power of the world's 'beautiful game' in the country of Brazil that plays the game most beautifully to bring people together. Tahiti got thrashed in the three games they played, but they did win over the hearts of thousands of Brazilians. And they also gave us a glimpse of what it feels like when regular people play against the world's best. Sure, you get crushed, but ultimately playing in this tournament was a dream come true for Tahiti and its players.
CONMEBOL (South America)
The final winner of the Confederations Cup was CONMEBOL, aka the South American footballing confederation. Brazil of course won the tournament and, while Uruguay ultimately finished 4th, they played a fairly respectable tournament and were the only team in the tournament to actually challenge Brazil. The funny thing is is that Uruguay is hardly a lock to even make next year's world cup. In the South American qualification table, Uruguay sits tied for 5th with Venezuela. Only the top 4 teams in South American qualifying, excluding Brazil who automatically qualifies, qualify for 2014's World Cup. The 5th place team plays in a playoff with a team from Asia. What this means is that if Uruguay, a team that may not even make the World Cup (though they should given their plethora of talent), was Brazil's biggest challenge in this Confederations Cup, the rest of South America must be pretty damn good. This list includes Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, and Chile. The South American field is deep, and given the fact that they have been traveling around South Amreica for the past two years playing grueling qualifiers against strong teams in very harsh climates, teams from CONMEBOL should all probably reach the last 16 in 2014.
Presumably to no one's surprise, Spain was the biggest loser of the Confederations Cup. Coming in as favorites, they were throttled by Brazil in the Cup final. In their final two games, the semi-final against Italy and the final against Brazil, they were the second best team on the pitch. A distant second. They did not look dangerous in attack. Brazil and Italy were begging questions of a back line that was consistently beat for pace and/or out of position. The only player who showed any sign of life, Jesus Navas, was coming off the bench. So is Spain in serious trouble? Well, yes and no. They will still come into next year's World Cup as one of the favorites and they will undoubtedly still go far in the tournament. But focus must now turn inward to manager Vicente del Bosque to find a dependable starting 11 to put on the field. He has shown little trust in David Villa or David Silva. For whatever reason, he's still reluctant to start Jesus Navas. After sitting out much of the year at Real Madrid, Iker Casillas looked out of sync. The back looked slow. Spain should be fine, but they will have to tinker with their lineup over the course of the next year because, now that Brazil has provided a flawless blueprint on how to beat them, that is the only option if they want to have a legitimate shot of repeating as World Champions.
There is perhaps no team in the world that could be classified as more of a 'loser' than Mexico right now. They lost their first two games in group play--essentially being eliminated before the tournament even kicked off. And primarily because they don't score goals, they're not even a lock to advance out of a weak CONCACAF qualifying group. The only positive is that Manchester United attacker Javier Hernandez showed signs of life in this tournament as he found the back of the net 3 times. Shame nobody else could do that even once. Things look bleak for Mexico. They should get to Brazil in 2014, but unless they right the ship and do so fast, they could be a team that other nations will want to see land in their group.
As wonderfully as the young Brazilian team played in their Confederations Cup, protests are still dominating much of the national and international press. In addition to reports that many of the stadiums are well-behind schedule, Brazil is not exactly showing FIFA that they can handle such a spectacle in one year's time. FIFA's not going to move next year's World Cup somewhere else, but Brazil should probably get its act together. The government has been gradually appealing to the protestors' demands, having passed acts including reducing the prices of public transport and approving a National Pact to improve Education and Health, but the timing of the protests in itself made the host nation as a whole a slight loser during an otherwise rivoting and telling 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup.