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Confederations Cup preview: Your quick guide to each teams’ standouts

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We’ve gone through the teams, and we’ve walked you through the schedule, but for some fans, the big draw to this summer’s Confederations Cup will be stars they don’t otherwise ee in their favorite leagues. In a tournament too young, infrequent and exclusive to carry much competitive prestige, the names on the back may be as alluring as the names on the front.

This year, neither Argentina (with Lionel Messi) nor Portugal (Cristiano Ronaldo) qualified for the quadrennial event, but between Brazil, Spain, Italy, Mexico, and Uruguay, a number of the world’s top talents will still be on display over the next three weeks.

Here’s a small selection of whom to look for – two players per team that may make your Confederations Cup viewing worthwhile.

Group A

Brazil

source: Getty ImagesNeymar (right) – The former Santos star has been the next big thing for so long, it’s hard to believe the time to put up has finally come. With his recent transfer to Spanish titans Barcelona, the 21-year-old attacker will be leaving South America for the first time, set to begin next season with Spain’s reigning champions. With enough skill on the ball to beat anybody one-on-one, Neymar has 20 goals in 33 appearances for Brazil, even if many are still waiting for that goal rate to translate into success against the world’s most prestigious nations.

Thiago Silva – One of the best defenders in the world, Silva will wear the armband for coach Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side, playing between Barcelona right back Daniel Alves and Chelsea left-central defender David Luiz. Expect those teammates, as brilliant as they can be, to give the athletic center half plenty of chances to exhibit has talents. Given what the PSG man has shown during his time in Italy and France, there’s little doubt the 28-year-old can handle the burden.

Japan

source: Getty ImagesKeisuke Honda (right) – Rumors that the dynamic CSKA Moscow attacker will leave Russia this summer make June’s tournament a showcase for the 27-year-old. Capable of playing across the width of the pitch at the level just behind a striker, Honda can be as adept creating as he is finishing chances. In 42 appearances for the Samurai Blue, the attacking midfielder has 14 goals.

Shinji Kagawa – Even though the Manchester United attacker’s already 24 years old, he’s still one of the younger players in Alberto Zaccheroni team, but with a style of play very similar to Honda’s, it hasn’t always proved easy to assimilate the former Borussia Dortmund star into the squad. Like Honda, he can play anywhere across the width of the pitch, and like Honda, he often seems as adept at score goals as setting them up.

Mexico

source: ReutersJavier Hernandez (right) – Your philosophical view about goal scoring likely defines how you feel about ‘Chicharito’, who usually is the frosting, not the cake. When his teams are generating goals, the 25-year-old is usually finishing them. But when teams need him to find goals on his own, Hernández still seems to need another dimension, one that prevents him from being considered among the world’s elite. With 32 goals in 47 appearances, Hernández’s production more than justifies his acclaim, but as Mexico’s waned, so has Chicharito.

Giovani dos Santos – Another mercurial performer, dos Santos may be the most talented player in CONCACAF, form he showed while leading El Tri to the 2011 Gold Cup. While he continues to show that talent at club level, scoring six league goals this past season in Spain for Mallorca, the former Barcelona and Tottenham Hotspur attacker has been unable to replicate that production recently for his national team. Quick, highly skilled, with a great natural instinct on the ball, dos Santos is still an elite talent. It’s just a matter of putting him in the right spots.

Italy

source: APGianluigi Buffon (right) – At 35 years old, Buffon’s amassed 128 caps, yet despite his age, the Juventus icon is still among the best goalkeepers in the world. Since the retirement of defender Fabio Cannavaro, he’s also served as the Azzurris captain, leading the team to the final of last year’s European Championships. While prone to the rare inexplicable lapse, Buffon’s reflexes remain strong, as does his ability to read the game as it approaches goal. His decisions on crosses may reflect some age, but as with all aspects of Buffon’s game, it’s a relative concern.

Andrea Pirlo – Pirlo’s move from AC Milan to Juventus two years ago seems to have revitalized his career, an effect that was on display at last summer’s European Championships, where he was the tournament’s best player (in our estimation). Sitting deep in Cesare Prandelli’s midfield, Pirlo will be provided the protection he needs to be his playmaking best, with others doing the manual labor while he sprays the ball to young attackers like Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy.

Group B

Spain

source: APXavi Hernández (right) – One hypothesis for Barcelona’s mild slip in this year’s Champions League: Teams have increasingly focused on Lionel Messi as Xavi has proved less effective at picking apart a defense. The Confederations Cup should prove a good test. Spain is as dependent on Xavi as Barcelona, with no heir apparent for their aging midfield orchestrator. If the Barcelona playmaker’s really transitioning into his career’s final act, his national team should also struggle. Else, Spain will be as formidable as ever.

Iker Casillas – Benched midseason in a political battle with his club manager, Spain’s captain gets back to regular duty in goal on the international level. Along with that comes a chance to show José Mourinho that he’s still the same Saint Iker who has led Spain to two-straight major titles. Perhaps an inflated reputation that cast him atop the world’s goalkeeper rankings has forever been tarnished, but Casillas is still more than capable of being a reliable No. 1.

Uruguay

source: Getty ImagesLuis Suárez (right) – The temperamental forward is coming off a suspension for punching an opponent in World Cup qualifying. His team rallied to win 1-0 in Venezuela on Tuesday, but in the preceding game, Suárez reminded La Celeste how important he was, coming off the bench to score in Uruguay’s 1-0 win over France. Combined with Edinson Cavani, Uruguay rivals Argentina for the top attacking tandem in the world, provided Suárez can keep himself on the field.

Edinson Cavani – If Suárez is the volatile one, Cavani is Mr. Dependable. Tall, skilled, relentless, and versatile, the Napoli man has become one of the best target men in the world, doing the leg work that frees up Suárez to exploit opposing defenses. With his partner absent on Tuesday, it was Cavani that found the goal that gave Uruguay its crucial win in Venezuela. Coming off three straight prolific seasons in Naples, the former Palemo man is drawing attention from Manchester City and Chelsea. A strong tournament could his suitors insatiable.

Tahiti

source: Getty ImagesSteevy Chong Hue – The 23-year-old AS Dragon striker is responsible for Tahiti’s place in Brazil, scoring the goal that won the nation the 2012 OFC Nations Cup – a win that secured the team’s first international title. The only player in the squad born away from Tahiti’s main island, Chong Hue briefly spent time playing low-level Belgian soccer before returning home to play for Dragon. At 23, he has 11 international goals.

Marama Varihua – Varihua, a striker, is the only player on Eddy Etaeta’s roster who plays outside of Tahiti. He’s spent his entire career in France, twice winning the Coupe de France during a six-year spell at Nantes. Born in Tahiti but appearing at U-levels for France, Varihua has also played at Nice, Lorient and Nancy, where he’s under contract today. Capable of playing wide as well as in support of Chong Hue, the uncapped 32-year-old’s contributions could prove key to Tahiti’s chance to earn a point in Brazil.

Nigeria

John Obi Mikel – Only 26, Mikel is one of the young Nigerians’ veterans, with Stephen Keshi naming only four players who are older than the Chelsea midfielder. Normally a holder at club level, Mikel has typically provided more of a box-to-box presence for his country, who he helped lead to this year’s Cup of Nations title. In a group with Spain and Uruguay, his defense may prove more valuable if the Super Eagles are to pull a small upset and advance to the knockout round.

source: APKenneth Omeruo (right) – Another Chelsea talent, Omeruo has yet to make an impact for his club, though for the national team, the 19-year-old started as the Nigerians claimed a surprise confederation title. Only 19 years old, Omeuro just finished an 18-month loan at ADO Den Haag, where he played both on the right and in the middle. While he awaits a decision about where his immediate club future lies, the former Standard Liege prospect will spend his summer in Brazil, starting in the middle of Stephen Keshi’s defense and potentially attracting the attention of a team who can give him playing time next season.

UCL: Arsenal buries Basel, wins group on Perez hat trick; Man City draws

Arsenal's Lucas Perez, back left, and Mesut Oezil, back right, cheer after Arsenal's second goal during their Champions League Group stage Group A soccer match between Switzerland's FC Basel 1893 and England's Arsenal FC in the St. Jakob-Park stadium in Basel, Switzerland, on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016. (Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP)
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Benfica and Napoli secured the two knockout round berths available Tuesday, and Arsenal ended up surprise Group A winners on a Champions League match day with a lot of dead rubber.

[ MORE: Ref attack could trigger Argentine strike ]


Basel 1-4 Arsenal

Look what Arsenal has in the cupboard.

Lucas Perez’s second Champions League appearance for the Gunners was a runaway success, as the 28-year-old Spaniard nailed a hat trick by the 47th minute of Arsenal’s X-0 win over Basel on Tuesday.

Perez scored 17 goals for Deportivo de la Coruna last season, but entered Tuesday with under 500 minutes for Arsenal this season. An ankle injury had cost him a month on the sidelines.

Alex Iwobi scored the Gunners’ fourth goal. Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, and Kieran Gibbs provided assists in the win.

Seydou Doumbia scored late for the hosts.


Manchester City 1-1 Celtic

With nothing on the line but pride and experience, Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola used a lot of youth on Tuesday against Celtic.

The City manager tapped Pablo Zabaleta as a defensive center mid next to Fernando, and used Bacary Sagna as a center back while youngsters Pablo Maffeo and Tosin Adarabioyo got starts in the back.

Celtic's Emilio Izaguirre, left, and City's Pablo Maffeo challenge for the ball during the Champions League group C soccer match between Manchester City and Celtic at the Etihad stadium in Manchester, England, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016.(AP Photo/Dave Thompson))
Celtic’s Emilio Izaguirre and City’s Maffeo (AP Photo/Dave Thompson).

 

Unfortunately (fortunately?) for Pep, the first City man to score was on loan at Celtic. Young Patrick Roberts, scooped up from Fulham last season, netted in the fourth minute against City’s unorthodox back six.

City broke through courtesy of Kelechi Iheanacho, and it was 1-1 at the break. Nolito had one pulled back for offside just after the match restarted in Manchester. City was also denied a penalty kick for handball.

City keeper Wily Caballero was called upon a few times in the second half, as Celtic and its noisy traveled fans were prepared to make a memory.


Elsewhere
Barcelona 4-0 Monchengladbach — Hat trick for Arda Turan
PSG 2-2 Ludogorets — Shock draw at the Parc des Princes
Dynamo Kiev 6-0 Besiktas — Red card dooms Turkish side
Benfica 1-2 Napoli — Jose Callejon nets Napoli opener
Bayern Munich 1-0 Atletico Madrid — Lewandowski ruins perfection for Atleti
Eindhoven 0-0 Rostov

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Argentina referees could strike after official is attacked

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 07:  Referee Cuneyt Cakir  reacts during the Men's Group D first round match between Argentina and Algeria during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 7, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) Argentina’s union of referees has threatened to go on strike to protest the brutal attack on an official by angry fans.

Union director Guillermo Marconi says the group wants to launch the stoppage after the attack on referee Claudio Elichiri.

The violence broke out Sunday after Elichiri failed to award a penalty in favor of local team Sarmiento in a decisive regional league game against Sansinena.

[ MORE: Vieira on NYCFC offseason, Mix Diskerud ]

Sansinena scored a goal right after, putting them ahead 2-1. Irate fans invaded the field and the referee expelled several protesting Sarmiento players and suspended the game, enraging local fans and players.

Elichiri escaped with the help of some Sarmiento players. He told local radio that he had to get stitches under his eye and is still hurting from bruises.

Champions League AT HALF – Arsenal leads; Man City level, Messi, Lewandowski score (video)

Barcelona's Lionel Messi, left dribbles with the ball during the Champions League, Group C, soccer match between FC Barcelona and Borussia Moenchengladbach at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday Dec. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
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The stars are out on Tuesday in the UEFA Champions League, as Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski are among those with first half goals in the final group stage matches of the 2016-17 campaign.

Barcelona 1-0 Borussia Monchengladbach

Having played one less game than his megawatt rival, Lionel Messi is now a goal away from equaling Cristiano Ronaldo’s record for most goals in a UEFA Champions League group stage.

Manchester City 1-1 Celtic

Loanee Patrick Roberts probably enjoyed scoring against his parent club, as Celtic took an early lead, but Kelechi Iheanacho didn’t take long to level things at the Etihad Stadium.

City is fielding an interesting back six, with Pablo Zabaleta as one of its holding mids and Bacary Sagna slid inside to pair with youngster Tosin Adarabioyo.

PSG 0-1 Ludogorets Razgrad

Virgil Misidjan gives the visitors a surprising lead…

Basel 0-2 Arsenal

…and a Lucas Perez double has the Londoners on pace to win the group.

Dynamo Kyiv 3-0 Besiktas

Artem Biesiedin’s goal has been buttressed by an Andriy Yarmolenko penalty and a third tally courtesy of Vitaliy Buyalskiy, as Napoli and Benfica look set to go through.

Bayern Munich 1-0 Atletico Madrid

Robert Lewandowski strikes with a nasty free kick for the hosts, who will finish second in the group regardless of result.

Elsewhere
Benfica 0-0 Napoli
PSV Eindhoven 0-0 Rostov

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Patrick Vieira discusses Mix Diskerud and NYCFC’s offseason plans

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 22:  Former professional football player and Western Union Pass Ambassador, Patrick Vieira, speaks with press at the Beyond Soccer Series Powered By streetfootballworld at Thomson Reuters Building on June 22, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images for Beyond Soccer Series)
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While the general feel of Tuesday’s MLS MVP ceremony in New York City was upbeat for New York City FC, the club has a challenging road ahead this offseason as they look to retool ahead of 2017.

[ MORE: David Villa wins 2016 Landon Donovan MLS MVP honors ]

Captain and star striker David Villa accepted honors on Tuesday as the Landon Donovan MLS MVP after notching 23 goals and four assists for the Eastern Conference, but outside of the Spaniard the team will have several noticeable holes that need plugging prior to next season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

NYCFC manager Patrick Vieira proved to be a strong hire in his first season with the club, but his potential success moving forward will be dictated by how he and technical director Claudio Reyna fill out the rest of the roster.

Key pieces such as Frank Lampard and Andoni Iraola have since left the club after providing stability in the midfield this past season, while Jason Hernandez, Claudio Bravo and Steven Mendoza were among the other roster casualties following the team’s first playoff appearance in 2016.

While Vieira admits losing players like Lampard certainly presents a challenge, the Frenchman believes that NYCFC can just as easily recruit more talented members in the buildup to next season.

“Of course we lost Frank [Lampard],” Vieira said. “We lose some other players as well. We have to bring some new players. Something that is very important to us is that we have to be better and we have to bring players that can match our targets and we have different options on the table.

“You would not believe how many players would love to play for New York City FC. We will have some difficult decisions to make and it’s important for us to bring the right people, like David, because it’s important to bring people who want to come, people who want to work hard, prepare to sacrifice themselves for the football club because we have to do well next year.”

As it stands, NYCFC currently has 18 players under contract ahead of the 2017 season, including two Designated Players (Villa and Andrea Pirlo).

One name that certainly jumps out on the list of 18 though is U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder Mix Diskerud, who has seen more downs than ups in his two seasons in the Bronx. After making 27 appearances for NYCFC in the team’s inaugural season, Diskerud’s playing time was dwindled down significantly in 2016 under Vieira to just nine starts in 12 overall appearances.

The 26-year-old was the fourth-highest paid player on NYCFC in 2016 — making $761,250 — however, he scored just one goal and added two assists. The club is still looking to figure out the best way to handle the Diskerud situation though, according to Vieira.

“He’s looking for playing time,” Vieira said. “We’re having discussions with him and trying to find the best way to satisfy both Mix and ourselves.”