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

2 Comments

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.

Wayne Rooney’s England retirement tinged with regret

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Wayne Rooney is England’s all-time leading goalscorer with 53 goals and he played for the Three Lions 119 times, more than any other outfield player in history.

[ MORE: Rooney retires from England ]

Rooney’s legacy will live on for decades but when the 31-year-old announced his international retirement on Wednesday, one sentence in his statement will likely stick in your mind.

“One of my very few regrets is not to have been part of a successful England tournament side,” Rooney said.

After 14 years of the hopes and dreams of every English fan being placed on his shoulders at major tournaments as the attacking leader of the so-called “golden generation” perhaps constant failure at the main events are the biggest reason why Rooney has decided to bow out earlier than many expected.

[ VIDEO: Rooney’s top five England goals ]

Rooney hadn’t played for England since November 2016 against Scotland in a 2018 World Cup qualifier, so this wasn’t too much of a surprise, especially after Gareth Southgate left Rooney out of his last two England squads. There is no doubt that his powers have been waning but it appeared Rooney was set for a recall for England’s final batch of qualifiers in the next few months and the captain of the Three Lions would lead the team to Russia next summer.

Yet with less than 10 months until the 2018 World Cup, the tournament Rooney previously stated would be his last for England, why did he now feel the need to step down?

With his fine form for Everton to start this season following 12 months on the fringes at Manchester United (where he became their all-time leading goalscorer last season too) it appeared Rooney was fitter and sharper than he has been for the past four or five years. Fitness does not appear to be the issue.

Cristiano Ronaldo is a year old than Rooney. Lionel Messi is one year younger than Rooney. Like Ronaldo and Messi he has won everything he can in the domestic game, and still that is not enough. All three have the weight of their respective nations on their shoulders but now only Ronaldo and Messi are continuing to lead their nations. Yet in Messi’s case, he too walked away from the national team after they lost to Chile in the 2016 Copa America Centenario, only to be persuaded to return soon after.

Like Rooney, Messi has yet to win a major title with his nation, but Argentina have certainly come much closer (four defeats in major finals, two on penalty kicks and one in extra time during his career with La Albiceleste) than England and Rooney every came. It appears that Rooney will not make a dramatic return for England a la Messi, but never say never.

Of course, one player cannot make a team but you can argue that the England teams Rooney was the focal point of were the greatest to never reach the semifinal of a major tournament, let alone win the damn thing.

Scoring just once in 11 World Cup games for England over three tournaments, Rooney’s finest moments in tournament play came in his first major competition: EURO 2004. In Portugal a young, bullish, teenage Rooney scored twice against Croatia and led England to the quarterfinals before he broke a dreaded metatarsal and England, as they would in the next two tournaments, lost on penalty kicks to Portugal in the quarters.

After that flurry of four goals and an assist in his first four tournament games, Rooney would go on to score just three goals from 47 shots in his next 17 games in major competitions.

More misery in major tournaments arrived as he snapped in the 2006 World Cup quarters, being sent off for a stamp on Ricardo Carvalho, then responded to England fans booing the team in South Africa in 2010 by ranting into TV cameras about their criticism. Rooney was banned for the opening two games of EURO 2012 and returned only for England to exit in the quarterfinals, again, this time to Italy. He finally scored at a World Cup in 2014 but England crashed out at the group stage and he then captained England at EURO 2016 but they bowed out in embarrassing fashion to Iceland in the Round of 16.

That, somewhat poetically, was to be his last appearance for England at a major tournament.

There’s no doubting that Rooney was the most talented striker England ever possessed with his ability to score sublime goals and create chances for his teammates. Yet, the greatest players on the planet are always judged by what they won on their international stage, mostly by dragging the team around them to new levels.

Pele won three World Cups with Brazil. Diego Maradona won one with Argentina. Ronaldo has won a European Championship with Portugal. Rooney won nothing.

That remains the only regret in a storybook international career which saw a lad from Liverpool put on a pedastool at the age of 17 and handed the keys to a nations success.

It didn’t work out how Rooney, and everyone else, had hoped when it came to ending England’s now 51-year wait for a major trophy, but he delivered goals, guile and commitment which the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Marcus Rashford will try to replicate in the next few decades.

Rooney’s international career will always be celebrated and his achievements are unlikely to be surpassed, but there were always be a tinge of regret he could never lead the Three Lions to international glory.

Players who survived Chapecoense plane crash tell their story

Leave a comment

On November 28, 2016 a plane crashed into a mountainous region outside the Colombian city of Medellin due to a lack of fuel, killing 71 of the 77 passengers on board.

It was carrying players, coaches, officials and journalists from Brazil to Colombia as Chapecoense were set to play in the biggest game in club history.

A team from Brazil’s top-flight was on the verge of its greatest moment when disaster struck.

Only three of the 22 Chapecoense players on board survived the crash.

Neto, Jakson Follmann and Alan Ruschel were the three survivors and all three have been telling their story to the Players’ Tribune in the story titled: “Tomorrow Belongs to God.”

In this piece (see the video above, also) Neto, Follmann and Ruschel go back and forth describing the crash, the aftermath and how they feel today with Neto and Ruschel able to play for Chapecoense once again, while goalkeeper Jakson had to have one of his legs amputated after the crash.

Jakson revealed that, for some reason, he pestered his close friend Ruschel to come and sit next to him on the plane rather than at the back just 30 minutes before the crash. They both survived.

Neto reveals how he woke up before the trip having had a horrible nightmare where he was in a plane but walked away. The dream was so vivid he told his wife and even text her to pray for him before the flight took off.

Below is an excerpt from Neto which opens up the incredibly emotional account from the trio.

I dreamed that it would happen. A few days before we were supposed to leave for the Copa Sudamericana finals in Colombia, I had a terrible nightmare. When I woke up, I told my wife that I had been in a plane crash. I was in the airplane at night, and there was a lot of rain. Then the plane shut off. It fell from the sky. But somehow I could stand up from the wreckage. I walked out and was on a mountain at night. Everything was dark. That’s all I remembered.

On the day of the trip to the finals, I couldn’t get the nightmare out of my mind. The dream was so vivid. It was hammering in my mind. So I sent a message to my wife from the airplane. I told her to pray to God to protect me from that dream. I didn’t want to believe that it was really going to happen. But I asked her to pray for me.

Stats behind Wayne Rooney’s record-breaking England career

Leave a comment

We all know Wayne Rooney was England’s all-time record goalscorer, but what other numbers will define his international career?

[ VIDEO: Rooney’s top five England goals

Rooney, 31, retired from Three Lions duty on Wednesday after scoring 53 goals in 119 games for England over the past 14 years.

Despite his incredible longevity England’s most-capped outfield player (second only behind goalkeeper Peter Shilton) will look back on his international career with some regret as his record in major tournaments was nowhere near what he would have hoped for.

[ MORE: Twitter reacts to Rooney’s retirement

Via Opta, below are the key stats behind Rooney’s record-breaking England career.

  • Rooney scored 53 goals and collected 20 assists in his 119 appearances for England
  • Overall his England career he created 192 goalscoring chances and recorded 380 shots
  • He struggled to impose his quality for England at international tournaments – scoring just seven goals in 21 apps in World Cup/EURO finals combined.
  • Rooney scored just once in 11 World Cup games for England, attempting 21 shots across the 2006, 2010 and 2014 tournaments
  • Following his breakthrough tournament at EURO 2004, Rooney scored just three goals and assisted another in 17 tournament appearances.
  • His conversion rate of shots since the start of the 2006 World Cup in international tournaments for England was just 6.4%.
  • During his England career, Rooney managed an impressive ratio of scoring every 156.1 minutes in competitive games – a higher ratio than in non-competitive friendlies.
  • Only Ashley Cole (22) has more appearances in major tournaments than Wayne Rooney who had 21 alongside Steven Gerrard

Twitter reacts to Wayne Rooney’s England retirement

Getty Images
1 Comment

Wayne Rooney has retired from international duty and tributes have been pouring in for England’s all-time leading goalscorer.

[ VIDEO: Rooney’s top five England goals ]

Rooney, 31, made the announcement on Wednesday and he ends his England career with 53 goals in 119 games, having appeared in six major tournaments for the Three Lions.

[ MORE: Rooney retires from England

Below is a look at some of the best reaction from players, clubs, pundits and celebrities to Rooney’s decision to call it quits.