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Italy and Spain set for Confederations Cup tilt

Published: Friday 14 June 2013, 10.43CET
Present in South Africa four years ago, Italy and world and European champions Spain are eyeing a first FIFA Confederations Cup title while hosts Brazil bid for a fourth.
by Paul Bryan & Paolo Menicucci
Italy and Spain set for Confederations Cup tilt
Vicente del Bosque is aiming to win his third major trophy as Spain coach ©AFP

Published: Friday 14 June 2013, 10.43CET

Italy and Spain set for Confederations Cup tilt

Present in South Africa four years ago, Italy and world and European champions Spain are eyeing a first FIFA Confederations Cup title while hosts Brazil bid for a fourth.

Ten years after the second of France's back-to-back FIFA Confederations Cup wins, it is the turn of Italy and Spain to bring the trophy back to Europe when the competition starts on Saturday in Brazil.

Spain – who in the event of victory would emulate Les Bleus' 2001 achievement of holding the Confederations Cup, FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championship simultaneously – will hope to go one better than four years ago in South Africa, their only previous appearance in the finals.

On that occasion, Vicente del Bosque's team, having breezed through the group phase without conceding a goal, were beaten 2-0 by the United States in the semi-finals – their only knockout stage defeat in the last four major tournaments. 

The Azzurri, after opening with a success against the US, then succumbed to Egypt and Brazil, who are going for a hat-trick of triumphs and a fourth Confederations Cup crown overall.

Italy
Group A opponents: Mexico, Japan, Brazil (hosts/holders)
Best performance:
group stage (2009)
How they qualified: UEFA EURO 2012 runners-up (winners Spain had already gained entry by virtue of their 2010 World Cup triumph)

A worried Cesare Prandelli hopes his side will quickly recover their best form after a fortunate 0-0 draw with the Czech Republic last week in FIFA World Cup qualifying and Tuesday's 2-2 friendly result against Haiti in Rio de Janeiro.

"We had just arrived after a long trip and we rotated several players, but nothing can change the fact it was a poor showing," said coach Prandelli after the Azzurri conceded two goals in the last five minutes against the Caribbean team. "I really hope that five days will be enough to be in good shape again."

Italy will launch their Group A campaign versus CONCACAF Gold Cup winners Mexico in Rio on Sunday, before facing a Japan outfit led by Italian Alberto Zaccheroni and closing against Brazil, whom they lost 3-0 to in 2009. "We were unconvincing against Haiti," said Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon. "Maybe the form was not the best, but we cannot make those kind of mistakes – we have to take the Confederations Cup seriously."

Buffon is one of eight Juventus players in the squad, another of whom, Emanuele Giaccherini, scored the fastest-ever goal for the Italian national side after 19 seconds against Haiti.

Spain
Group B opponents: Uruguay, Tahiti, Nigeria
Best performance:
third place (2009)
How they qualified: 2010 World Cup winners

Spain begin their tilt in Recife on Sunday against Copa América victors Uruguay. Del Bosque caused a slight surprise when opting to fill the void created by the absence of midfielder Xabi Alonso – who has undergone groin surgery – with Valencia CF striker Roberto Soldado.

His main concern will be who to start in goal. Iker Casillas, playing just his second game since sustaining a thumb injury in January, performed admirably in Tuesday's 2-0 friendly victory against the Republic of Ireland in New York, but the Real Madrid CF man is unlikely to unseat Víctor Valdés for the weekend opener.

"The players have now cleared their minds after an intense domestic campaign and are arriving in Brazil in good condition," Del Bosque said. "We have a great squad here – all the players are starters with their clubs – and we will find it difficult [picking a starting XI] from such a good group."

La Roja will come up against some familiar faces, with Uruguay's Diego Lugano (Málaga CF), Diego Godín and Cristian Rodríguez (both Club Atlético de Madrid) plying their trade in the Spanish Liga.

Format: the group stage runs from Saturday until 23 June, with the top two in each section progessing to the semi-finals on 26 and 27 June. The third-place play-off and final are three days later.

Venues: Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, Fortaleza, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador

Past winners
2009: Brazil
2005: Brazil
2003: France (hosts)
2001: France
1999: Mexico (hosts)
1997: Brazil

Last updated: 14/06/13 14.18CET

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