It is easy to talk about familiar names like Kaka, Robinho, Cannavaro or Torres, but who is going to use the Confederations Cup as a coming-out party for the World Cup in 2010? Who is going to pull the strings to lead their country to glory in South Africa this summer?
Here are a few players from Group A to look out for:
Nashat Akram - Iraq
Supporters of Iraqi football won’t consider Akram an up and coming player, as he is clearly one of their stars. But for most fans of the beautiful game, he will be a relative unknown, since he was denied the opportunity to play in the world’s most popular league.
In 2008, Sven Goran Eriksson offered Akram a contract to play for Manchester City in the English Premier League, only for the Iraqi to be denied a work permit. Undeterred, Akram recently became only the second player from Iraq to sign for a European club, inking a three-year deal with FC Twente in Holland.
At just 24, Akram still has his best years ahead of him; yet he has already accumulated 75 caps for his country. Capable of scoring as well as creating goals from midfield, Akram is someone that Iraq will look to for leadership in South Africa.
Steven Pienaar - South Africa
The notable exclusion from the South African squad for the Confederations Cup is Blackburn Rovers striker Benni McCarthy. Failing to turn up for a training camp in March has cost McCarthy dearly, as South African coach Joel Santana has decided to use his star striker’s exclusion to make a statement to his other squad members - do it my way or no way at all.
In McCarthy’s absence, someone is going to have to step to the fore, and who better than Everton’s midfielder, Pienaar?
Since joining the Toffees in 2007, the South African has been a consistent performer at the highest level in the Premier League. He has often divided the opinions of supporters in his homeland, but the lure of playing on home soil should be enough to bring out his best.
Shane Smeltz - New Zealand
With 12 goals in 19 games for his country, Shane Smeltz knows how to find the back of the net. If New Zealand is going to cause a stir in South Africa this summer, he’ll have to keep doing that, because I’m afraid for them at the other end of the pitch.
The injury to skipper Ryan Nelson is a massive blow for the Kiwis. You just cannot underestimate how much of a contribution a captain makes to a team, both on and off the field. For evidence of this, just look at how Italy fared at Euro 2008 without Fabio Cannavaro in their line-up.
Nelson’s absence will need to be addressed, but that job will be made easier if Smeltz can score goals at the other end.
However, scoring against the likes of Fiji, New Caledonia and Vanuatu is one thing; scoring against Spain, Iraq and South Africa is quite another. If New Zealand is to make it out of the group stage, Smeltz is the one who will need to find a way to do that.
Fernando Torres - Spain
Could life get any better for Fernando Torres and his Spanish teammates? After finally shaking off their tag of underachievers by winning Euro 2008, Spain has continued to be the dominant team in international football. Well clear at the top of the FIFA world rankings, Spain is just about everyone’s favourite to lift the World Cup next summer in South Africa.
Most people also believe they will prequel that by winning the Confederations Cup as well.
Spain is a team with an embarrassing amount of talent. I could have chosen any of a dozen players to highlight for La Roja, but I believe that Torres is the key. His pace, power and finishing prowess are world class, and if he is on form, it will take some doing to contain the Spanish striker. Look for him to finish the Confederations Cup as top scorer with another gold medal around his neck.
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