We are officially less than a year away from the start of the World Cup, which means it's time for the "is the host nation ready?" handwringing to really get into gear (spoiler alert: it will be). It also means it's time for the Confederations Cup — the mini rehearsal for the main event that has been making football fans go mild since 1997 (from 1992-1995 it was known as the King Fahd Cup).
So why should you care about the Confederations Cup? Well, let's face it — you're already sick of transfer rumors and you've got nothing better to do during the last two weeks of June. But beyond that there are many non-depressing reasons why this tournament is rather enjoyable. And, thankfully, DT is here to reveal them to you in a way that will probably make you cry tears of joy and physical pleasure you have never known before (without paying for it).
First, how the Confederations Cup works: The eight participating teams are divided into two groups. Group A: Brazil, Japan, Mexico and Italy. Group B: Spain, Uruguay, Tahiti and Nigeria. After each team plays everyone in their group once, the top two sides in each group advance to the knockout stage, which is comprised of a semifinal, final and third-place match. In other words, it's pretty much the World Cup format, but on a smaller scale and with one important new feature: Goal-line technology.
Now, the teams...
How they got here: Host nation guilt exemption.
Why this is important to them: Brazil have won this tournament three of the last six times it's been held, including the last two. The problem? They haven't done so well since the last one in 2009. There was criticism for their quarterfinal exit in the 2010 World Cup, fury after their quarterfinal exit in the 2011 Copa America and outrage after their loss to Mexico in the gold medal game at last summer's Olympics. At this point, the fans are impatient and agitated and Brazil have to play in front of them. Pele has already asked supporters not to boo, even if the team doesn't do well. If they don't do well, there will be anger. If they do lift the trophy, it could ease some of the pressure going into the World Cup and help ease the team's mental state.
Player to watch: Neymar — He's only 21 years old, but he will have actual, serious pressure to dominate, even if it is just the Confederations Cup. This tournament will be almost exclusively about him. Especially after leaving Santos for Barcelona in a €57 million deal last month. If he underachieves, he could get shipped to Barcelona in a 20 oz. Pepsi bottle.
How they got here: Reached the Euro 2012 final (since Spain won both the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, the Confederations Cup's UEFA slot fell to Italy).
Why this is important to them: In the bowels of a fortified bunker high up in the Alps, Bearded Andrea Pirlo was forced to say a painful goodbye. His closest friend and confidant, a goat known only as Davide, informed him that he would not accompany the team to Brazil by defecating in a particularly vulgar and aggressive fashion. Someone must protect the harsh terrain of their home, but someone else must forge a path to new successes in foreign lands using only his unparalleled footballing talent and his ability to harvest facial hair. Bearded Pirlo knew he would have to be that someone else. And he knew he would rather die from Caipirinha poisoning than let Davide down. This is for Davide.
Player to watch: Mario Balotelli — He might celebrate his goals by flexing like a statue or he might get sent off and beat up a tunnel. Either way, watching Mario Balotelli do anything is a treat and a privilege.
How they got here: 2011 Asian Cup winners.
Why this is important to them: As the first team (other than Brazil) to seal a place in the 2014 World Cup, Japan are in a unique position. Yes, they know that they'll be back, but it's also their first tournament in South America since pulling out of the 2011 Copa America (they were special invitees, along with Mexico) in the wake of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that year. When Japan hosted the 2001 Confederations Cup, they lost to France in the final. France aren't here, so Brazil will have to do.
Player to watch: Keisuke Honda — After winning the Russian Premier League and Russian Cup double with CSKA Moscow last season, Honda has reportedly had interest from the likes of Liverpool and Milan. He could be playing for a big move and as history has shown, performing well in a summer tournament can help make a big move even bigger.
How they got here: 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup winners.
Why this is important to them: Life has been difficult for the 1999 Confederations Cup winners recently. They have one win and five draws in the final round of World Cup qualifying. Four of those draws have been scoreless, including all three of their home matches. They were booed off the pitch by their own fans after their most recent 0-0 disappointment party and their manager, Jose de al Torre, had to tell the press that he doesn't intend to quit. In short, Mexico need a strong performance in Brazil to get fans back on their side and their World Cup qualifying campaign back on track. At the very least, they need to stop having scoreless draws in every freaking match they play.
Player to watch: Chicharito — The Baby Killer needs to start living up to his poorly translated nickname.
How they got here: 2010 World Cup winners. And Euro 2012 winners.
Why this is important to them (as explained by Xavi): In 2009, the first of several grave injustices was committed against football and beauty and the concept of love when the United States beat us 2-0 in the semifinals of the Confederations Cup. This ended our 15-match winning streak and record 35-match unbeaten streak. In the time since then, we have won the World Cup and the European Championship for a second time. The Confederations Cup remains a void for us, but once it is filled, we can unite the three trophies to open portal to a magical new world where Lionel Messi plays for Spain, we never lose possession of the ball and Jose Mourinho does not exist. It is our destiny. And if we lose again, I'm going to blame the pitch and sue everyone. So don't ruin this for me or I will ruin you.
Player to watch: Fernando Torres — Though his form for both club and country in recent years has been inconsistent (to put it nicely), Fernando Torres has put together a haul of winner's medals and awards that Arsene Wenger finds sexually arousing. With Spain, he's won the UEFA U-16 Championship in 2001, UEFA U-19 Championship in 2002, Euro 2008 and 2012 (plus the Golden Boot in '12) and the 2010 World Cup. With Chelsea, he's also won the 2012 FA Cup, 2012 Champions League and 2013 Europa League. The man is a trophy magnet and clearly he needs to add the Confederations Cup title to his collection.
How they got here: 2011 Copa America winners.
Why this is important to them: Because who wouldn't still be bitter about losing the third-place match to the Czech Republic in the 1997 Confederations Cup?!
Player to watch: Luis Suarez — He scores goals, he punches opponents in the face and he bites other human beings. If he bites Gerard Pique, they will never be able to clean up all of the blood. It will make Texas Chainsaw Massacre look like a film about living with germaphobia.
How they got here: 2013 Africa Cup of Nations winners.
Why this is important to them: It's a chance to impress against some of the best in the world. Since reaching the round of 16 at both the 1994 and 1998 World Cups, Nigeria have been unable to meet expectations against intercontinental competition. Though this isn't on the level of the World Cup, it's still a chance to change that trend.
Player to watch: The whole team. They briefly went on strike and refused to board their flight to Brazil over a pay dispute, delaying their arrival by a day. Hopefully this doesn't pop up again during the tournament.
How they got here: 2012 OFC Nations Cup winners.
Why this is important to them: Come on...it's Tahiti. Tahiti! This is the first time they've ever qualified for the Confederations Cup. They're going to play the world champions. In Brazil. For a team with just one professional footballer (Marama Vahirua), this is the chance of a lifetime.
Player to watch: All of them. They'll be the happiest people you see this year.
Related coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
• Santos player shown yellow card for kicking ball at Ronaldinho's head
• Romanian special forces police halt match to arrest player
• Slideshow: Confederations Cup from A to Z
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