A look at the eight teams competing in the June 17-July 2 Confederations Cup, Russia’s dress rehearsal for the 2018 World Cup. FIFA ranking in parentheses.
The hosts will be showing off shiny new venues. Their team has less to brag about. A group-stage exit at last year’s European Championship saw Russia remembered more for fan disorder than its slow and predictable style of play.
PLAYERS: Veteran defenders Vasily Berezutsky and Sergei Ignashevich have both departed, but their younger replacements have yet to make their mark. Fyodor Smolov is the main attacking threat, while fellow forward Alexander Kokorin wasn’t selected. Injuries have depleted the squad, with midfielders Alan Dzagoev and Roman Zobnin missing out, along with forward Artyom Dzyuba.
COACH: Stanislav Cherchesov was hired in August to fix things. After a poor start, Friday’s 1-1 friendly draw with Chile gives some hope.
Most of the players who helped Portugal win its first major title at Euro 2016 will be back for its Confederations Cup debut. It’s less certain if Portugal will return to Russia for the World Cup. Portugal is second in its qualifying group and only the winner automatically makes the World Cup.
PLAYERS: Cristiano Ronaldo will join up late with the squad as he rests following Real Madrid’s Champions League success. One noticeable absentee in Russia will be Portugal’s Euro 2016 match-winner Eder, who has been dropped.
COACH: Fernando Santos took over Portugal after leading Greece to the quarterfinals of Euro 2016 and to the last 16 of the 2014 World Cup. He thrived with Portugal at Euro 2016 with a setup that was based on solid defense and effective counterattacking made easier when Ronaldo is in your lineup.
Mexico scraped into the 2014 World Cup but the team’s passage to the 2018 tournament has been far smoother and it dominated CONCACAF qualifying.
PLAYERS: Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez arrives in Russia fresh from becoming Mexico’s all-time leading scorer by netting his 47th international goal.
COACH: Juan Carlos Osorio has silenced his critics as the Mexicans set the pace in the CONCACAF qualifiers. The Colombian has lost two games since being hired in 2015 and only one was a competitive fixture.
NEW ZEALAND (95)
New Zealand qualified for the Confederations Cup by winning the Oceania Nations’ Cup. Although it is progressing smoothly in World Cup qualifying, Oceania isn’t guaranteed a spot in Russia. That depends on winning a playoff against a South American nation.
PLAYERS: Striker Chris Wood will captain New Zealand after West Ham defender Winston Reid was forced out with a knee injury. Wood was top-scorer in England’s second-tier last season. Bill Tuiloma of Marseilles will be a stabilizing influence in midfield.
COACH: Anthony Hudson has worked hard to change New Zealand’s domestic structures and its mindset. The Englishman doesn’t allow his players to call themselves underdogs, even against the strongest opposition.
With six wins out of six in qualifying, Germany is on a smooth path to Russia to mount its World Cup title defense. The Confederations Cup is being used as an opportunity to give untested players more tournament experience.
PLAYERS: Only three World Cup winners are included in Germany’s Confederations Cup squad – Matthias Ginter, Julian Draxler and Shkodran Mustafi – as established team members are given a break. Watch out for the newcomers: Lars Stindl, Amin Younes, Diego Demme, and Sandro Wagner, who claimed a hat trick against San Marino on his competitive debut last Saturday.
COACH: Joachim Loew has led Germany since 2006 after being promoted from Juergen Klinsmann’s assistant and he has a contract through 2020. Loew does not believe in overburdening his players and has often cautioned against the demands of modern football, warning too many games lead to injuries or even shortened careers.
A squad missing many top Europe-based players defied doubters to win the country’s first African title in 15 years in February. It recovered some pride for a team that had become accustomed recently to chaos and failure at major tournaments.
PLAYERS: The speedy and skillful 21-year-old winger Christian Bassogog has emerged as Cameroon’s brightest star and its most creative attacker. He was so good he was rewarded with the player of the tournament award at the African Cup of Nations.
COACH: Cameroon’s resurgence over the last 12 months has coincided with Hugo Broos’ appointment at the beginning of last year. It’s the former Belgium defender’s first job as coach of a national team. Broos hoped to get the South Africa job after the African Cup of nations but he was overlooked.
Chile beat favorite Argentina in penalty shootouts to win the last two Copa America tournaments and also ended Spain’s World Cup defense in 2014. But Chile is only in the fourth and final automatic qualification place from South America for the 2018 World Cup, just ahead of Argentina.
PLAYERS: The attacking threat should come from Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez. For versatility there’s midfielder Arturo Vidal, who has helped Bayern Munich to a fifth straight Bundesliga title with his goals and assists.
COACH: Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi replaced Jorge Sampaoli last year and built on his Copa America title by lifting the trophy again. The Argentine came from Mexican club Leon and he has also coached Valencia in Spain.
On their previous three appearances at the Confederations Cup, the Australians were representing Oceania. After winning the Asian Cup in 2015, they are back as the first country to represent two confederations. Australia, which transferred to the Asian confederation in 2005, is third in Asian World Cup qualifying and might have to contest a playoff against a CONCACAF team to return to Russia next year.
PLAYERS: Tim Cahill is the only surviving member of the squad from Australia’s last Confederations Cup appearance in 2005. Jamie Maclaren has been recalled to the squad and secured a move to German second-tier club Darmstadt after impressing with his scoring prowess with Brisbane Roar.
COACH: Ange Postecoglou is already looking beyond the Australia job for his next challenge in 2018. Before then, the former Australia defender is hoping to confirm the progress he’s made with the country with a strong showing in Russia in the coming weeks as the platform for the World Cup.
Associated Press Writers Ciaran Fahey, Carlos Rodriguez, Luis Henao, Tales Azzoni, Steve McMorran, James Ellingworth, Gerald Imray and Dennis Passa contributed to this report.