The big kick-off for the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009 is just hours away, with all eight competing sides in final preparations for the eagerly anticipated ‘Festival of Champions'. The competition, which features the continental champions from around the globe, is set to be a huge but rewarding challenge for host nation South Africa, as well as those players and coaches determined to leave their mark.
Sticking with these strategists, the eight bosses involved all go into the tournament with very different backgrounds, records and personalities. Perhaps with least to prove is 61-year-old Italy supremo Marcello Lippi, who in his first spell as Azzurri coach masterminded triumph at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ and oversaw 17 wins, ten draws and just two defeats since taking the job in 2004. Having stepped down after the Germany 2006 success, the former Napoli and Juventus coach was once again handed the Nazionale reins after UEFA EURO 2008. Charged with leading Italy to a place at South Africa 2010, Lippi has taken his team to the top of Group 8 of European qualifying and bedded in a number of new, young players.
Turning next to 2007 Copa America winners Brazil and their coach Dunga, who has since guided the Seleção to the top of South American Zone qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Never afraid to make tough decisions such as excluding big-name stars, which often draws criticism from the domestic press, the 45-year-old former international midfielder has stuck steadfastly to his beliefs. "Italy are the reigning world champions, that says it all. Spain are the national team of the moment and are playing really well," said Dunga, when asked if his team are favourites to win the trophy. "And in the first round we'll face tough opponents like the United States and Egypt, who don't have as high a profile but are extremely capable and we'll need to get past them first."
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque, for his part, faced an intriguing challenge when taking over from Luis Aragones after La Roja's dazzling win at EURO 2008. However, armed with the experience of dealing with los galácticos during a phenomenally successful spell at Real Madrid, the 58-year-old's first national-team post could barely have gone more smoothly. Del Bosque has managed to inject fresh talent into La Selección, and has done so while accruing ten consecutive victories - a world record start for an incoming national coach. With the last of these games a 6-0 friendly success in Azerbaijan, he appears to have his charges peaking at just the right time.
The host nation, coached by Brazilian Joel Santana, are due to kick off their campaign on 14 June against Asian champions Iraq. Santana took over after compatriot Carlos Alberto Parreira stepped down in April 2008, though his appointment came in for heavy criticism. Chief among the complaints was a lack of a national-team role on a coaching CV which nevertheless spans 20 years. Having picked up five wins and two defeats in seven friendlies since Bafana Bafana's failed bid to qualify for next year's CAF African Cup of Nations, the FIFA Confederations Cup will seen as the true test of the 61-year-old's ability to conjure a respectable performance at the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Hassan Shehata is another of coach with little to prove, having guided Egypt to victory at the last two editions of the African Cup of Nations. His firm hand at the Pharaohs'' tiller has helped create a united and harmonious squad, with camaraderie and a healthy atmosphere the order of the day. But after failure to qualify for Germany 2006, and with his side in danger of missing out on the 2010 finals, Shehata will see the ‘Festival of Champions' as the perfect opportunity to show his charges can mix it on the global stage.
Despite the doubts raised when handed the United States' head coach's role, Bob Bradley quickly silenced the critics by guiding the Stars and Stripes to victory at the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Since then his name has been synonymous with stability and the immersion of youngsters into a squad determined to have an impact at South Africa 2009. Though drawn in a fiercely competitive Group B alongside Italy, Brazil and Egypt, this would only make any potential progress that much sweeter.
A bona-fide FIFA World Cup veteran, having led five different national teams at five final phases, Bora Milutinovic claims his upcoming campaign here in South Africa with Iraq will be the "sweetest of them all". In charge for just over two months, the experienced strategist is "taking each game as it comes" with a side who have very little to lose and a huge amount to gain. "My players' attitude is perfect. They're brave and motivated," said the 64-year-old Serbian, whose experience spans five continents. Boasting a reputation as a miracle-worker, taking Iraq out of Group A and into the semi-finals would be just such a feat.
Last but not least we have New Zealand's Ricki Herbert, who faces his first major test at the national team helm; the second being an eventual qualifying play-off for South Africa 2010. His charges go into this competition with morale on a high after pushing Italy all the way in a 4-3 friendly defeat this week, and the coach believes it could be the start of something big: "We could be the surprise packages at this tournament. Reaching the semi-finals seems to be a realistic objective."
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In your opinion, which of these coaches has enjoyed the most success and why?