Rio de Janeiro, June 10 (IANS) Spain and Uruguay raise the Group B curtain at Recife’s Arena Pernambuco Sunday in a fixture laden with European-based stars. The less-fancied Tahiti and Nigeria open their campaign the following day at Belo Horizonte’s Mineirao.
Perhaps this is not the most evenly-matched group in Confederations Cup history, but players of the ilk of Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Luis Suarez and John Obi Mikel ensure it won’t be short of quality, reports Xinhua.
La Roja have won just about every accolade possible over the past five years but this is the one trophy to elude Vicente del Bosque’s team.
The reigning world and European champions finished third in their only previous Confederations Cup appearance in 2009 and Del Bosque says the competition will be taken seriously.
“There are four world champions but also three other teams that deserve a lot of respect: Japan, the Olympic champions Mexico and Nigeria, who won the African Cup of Nations,” Del Bosque said. “There is also Tahiti, which is a little bit of an unknown entity for us.”
As expected, Barcelona and Real Madrid have provided the bulk of the squad with 13 of the 26 players named by Del Bosque.
The 62-year-old coach has recalled striker Fernando Torres after the 29-year-old scored an impressive 23 goals for Chelsea in 2012-13 while Bayern Munich midfielder Javi Martinez also returns. Both players were overlooked for Spain’s World Cup qualifiers against France and Finland in March.
Real Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso will miss the tournament after undergoing surgery on an injured groin.
The two-time World Cup winners have been in steady decline since winning the 2011 Copa America tournament in Argentina.
La Celeste are in danger of missing the 2014 World Cup in Brazil after managing just two points from their past six South American qualifiers and slumping to seventh, three spots below the automatic qualification cut-off.
A 1-0 victory over France in Montevideo last week was the team’s first against Les Bleus since 1966 and went some way to placating concerns about Tabarez’s team.
Uruguay’s strength in recent years has been their attack and this tournament will be no exception.
Tabarez will have the luxury of choosing between Luis Suarez (Liverpool), Edinson Cavani (Napoli), Diego Forlan (Internacional) and Abel Hernandez (Palermo) to front his team.
Juventus defender Martin Caceres has been included after a car accident forced him out of two World Cup qualifiers in March.
The Super Eagles have experienced something of a renaissance in the past two years under manager Stephen Keshi.
Having achieved an all-time high world ranking of fifth in 1994, Nigeria missed the 2006 World Cup in Germany and failed to progress beyond the group stage in South Africa four years later.
But Keshi’s men reinforced their resurgence as a regional force by winning the 2013 African Cup of Nations in February with a 1-0 victory over Burkina Faso in the final.
They are also well-placed in their quest for a 2014 World Cup berth, heading Africa’s Group F with eight points from four matches in the second round of qualifiers.
Nigeria’s Confederations Cup squad includes Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel as well as Maccabi Tel Aviv goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama. The team will be without Mikel’s Blues teammate Victor Moses and former Almeria midfielder Kalu Uche due to injury.
The tiny Pacific island-nation earned a ticket to Brazil with a 1-0 victory over New Caledonia in the 2012 Oceania Nations Cup.
Steevy Chong Hue struck the winning goal and became a national hero overnight in a country renowned more for its idyllic beaches than football.
Tahiti’s side is made up mostly of amateurs but coach Eddy Etaeta has insisted the team will be no walkovers for their Confederations Cup rivals.
Etaeta might draw encouragement from the fact Oceania provided a finalist for the 1997 tournament when Australia reached the decider against Brazil.