The 2018 FIFA World Cup begins exactly one year away, so it’s now time for soccer’s premier warm-up act.
The 2017 Confederations Cup will kick off Saturday in Russia, with the host nation taking on New Zealand in front of legions of fans in attendance and hundreds of millions more watching on TV from near and far.
The competition features eight teams: the host of the upcoming World Cup, the reigning World Cup winner and the six most recent winners of each continent’s championship tournament. It’s international men’s soccer’s official tournament of champions. Watch our primer to see why the Confederations Cup is so important.
Two groups consisting of teams will play a round-robin group stage. The top two teams in each group will advance to the semifinals, with the semifinal losers playing in the third-place game, and the winners meeting July 2 in the final.
Confederations Cup Groups
Mexico (CONCACAF/North and Central America and the Caribbean)
New Zealand (OFC/Oceania)
Russia (World Cup 2018 host)
Predictions: Portugal and Mexico progress
Russia will start on a high note by dispatching New Zealand before falling to Portugal and Mexico and failing to progress.
Portugal vs. Mexico will be the best game of the group stage, as both bring their strongest teams to Russia with hopes of winning the competition. We expect this game to end in a draw. Mexico and Portugal then will win their remaining games to advance to the semifinals with seven points apiece. Goal difference will determine the group winner.
New Zealand will lose three close games and exit with its dignity intact.
Chile (CONMEBOL/South America)
Germany (2014 World Cup winner)
Predictions: Chile and Germany advance
Group B should be the more competitive of the two, with each team capable of progressing.
Australia might earn a result against Germany in the opener, but a loss is more likely. The Socceroos then will recover for a point against Cameroon before falling to Chile and exiting the tournament.
Cameroon will pay for its inexperience at the Confederations Cup by losing to Chile in their opener, failing to beat Australia in the second game before earning a face-saving draw against Germany in the finale. The African champions go home with two points.
Chile’s quality, depth and experience will carry it deep into the tournament. After beating Cameroon, Chile will draw the marquee game vs. Germany and dispatch Australia in the finale.
Germany will look nothing like the all-conquering 2014 team, with head coach Joachim Low using the Confederations Cup to assess his young players. Germany will beat Australia, draw against Chile and earn a disappointing draw against Cameroon to advance with five points.
Players to watch
Australia’s Tim Cahill is the world’s oldest player. Just kidding, but can the 37-year-old forward still inspire the Socceroos?
Cameroon’s Vincent Aboubakar fired Besiktas to the Turkish league title and also scored three goals in both the UEFA Champions and Europa Leagues. Let’s see if he can be as effective internationally.
Ambroise Oyongo will feature on Cameroon’s back line. He’s one of two MLS regular players in the tournament (along with Mexico’s Giovanni dos Santos).
The reputations of Chile’s Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal speak for themselves. Watch them and learn.
Germany’s Julian Draxler watched the 2014 World Cup final from the bench, but Low likely will build his team’s attack around the talented winger.
Mexico’s Hirving “Chucky” Lozano terrorizes CONCACAF, and the 21-year-old forward will demonstrate to the wider world why Manchester City reportedly is keen on signing him.
Porgutal’s Cristiano Ronaldo will be unstoppable. Andre Silva, Bernardo Silva and Andre Gomes will show how bright Portugal’s future will be.
Russia’s veteran goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev could have played in a stronger European league but he has remained loyal to CSKA Moscow since he broke into their first team in 2003.
Thumbnail photo via Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY Sports Images