The FIFA Confederations Cup kicks off on Saturday with the host country Russia facing New Zealand. The tournament is held every four years and serves as somewhat of a World Cup test run, with the winners of each of the six regional championships along with the current World Cup holder and upcoming World Cup host nation competing for the title. The eight teams are split into two groups of four, with the top two from each group advancing to the semi-finals. Let’s take a closer look at the teams competing and players to watch in the 2017 version of the tournament:
Group A Preview
Portugal punched a ticket to the tournament by winning the UEFA EURO 2016 trophy last summer, and they’ve made it clear that they intend to build on that triumph by bringing a strong squad to the Confederations Cup. With a combination of experience and youthful talent, Portugal are considered a favorite to make it out of Group A and compete for the title.
One to Watch – Cristiano Ronaldo
Less than a week removed from leading Real Madrid to Champions League glory, Ronaldo switched gears to lift Portugal to an important 3-0 World Cup Qualifying win over Latvia. Portugal’s all-time leading scorer had a hand in all three goals, with two goals and an assist on nine shots for 43 DraftKings points.
Mexico shook off USA in the 2015 CONCACAF Cup to qualify for the tournament and are the only previous Confederations Cup champion (1999) in this year’s version. El Tri is bringing a top notch team to Russia, and they have a good shot at advancing out of group play.
One to Watch – Carlos Vela
Vela plays a key role in Mexico’s attack and is hitting his stride at just the right time. He scored the equalizer in Sunday’s WCQ against the US and assisted on a goal against Honduras three days prior.
Russia are making their first Confederations Cup appearance as the host of the 2018 World Cup. Head coach Stanislav Chercherov has named an inexperienced roster due to a mix of injuries and a desire to freshen up the group ahead of the 2018 World Cup. Even with home field advantage, making it out of Group A with Portugal and Mexico looming is a daunting task.
One to Watch – Fedor Smolov
Smolov has been the top scorer in the Russian Premier League for two seasons running and serves as Russia’s biggest goal scoring threat.
The All Whites represent the Oceania region (OFC) and are making their fourth Confederations Cup appearance. In nine previous games, they have lost eight and drawn once, with two goals scored and 24 against. They’ll once again be viewed as the minnows of the tournament.
One to Watch – Chris Wood
Wood scored 27 goals for Leeds United to win the Golden Boot in England’s second-tier Championship division. He has 19 goals in 47 international appearances and has been named the captain of New Zealand ahead of the Confederations Cup.
Group B Preview
La Roja knocked Argentina off in a penalty shootout to win the 2015 Copa America and a spot in the Confederations Cup. Proving their first international trophy in 100 years was no fluke, Chile followed that up by winning the 2016 Copa America Centenario last summer. They’re bringing their “A-team” to Russia and are considered a tournament favorite.
One to Watch – Alexis Sanchez
The cog to the Chilean attack was awarded the Golden Ball as the best player of the 2016 Copa America. The versatile attacker can fill the stat sheet up in a hurry and has some exploitable match-ups in group play.
Germany enter the tournament as the reigning World Cup winners but will have a visibly different team than most are familiar with. Head coach Joachim Low left several big name stars at home, but that doesn’t mean they won’t compete. Expect the Germans to make it out of Group B and challenge Portugal or Mexico for a spot in the final.
One to Watch – Timo Werner
The speedy forward is coming off an impressive 21-goal Bundesliga haul, and despite only two international appearances to his name Werner will look to seize the opportunity as Germany’s go-to goalscorer in Russia.
Cameroon shocked Egypt to win the Africa Cup of Nations in February and now get to showcase their exciting, up-tempo style of play against some of the top teams in the world. Expectations can be tempered in a group with Chile and Germany, but per usual the Indomitable Lions could make things interesting.
One to Watch – Benjamin Moukandjo
Moukandjo is a do-it-all forward with set-piece contributions adding to his fantasy appeal. He played a big part in Cameroon’s Africa Cup of Nations run and was named the Man of the Match in the final.
The Socceroos took down the 2015 AFC Asian Cup to qualify for the Confederations Cup. With Germany bringing a less than full strength team to the tournament, Australia is in prime position to raise a few eyebrows in Russia.
One to Watch – Tim Cahill
Australia’s all-time leading scorer is still going at age 37. He’s scored 48 times in 97 appearances and is set to feature on the big stage once again.
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