The Contenders - part I
South Africa (Host Nation)
Although a lot has been said about South Africa's form lately, Bafana Bafana have seemingly turned a sharp corner and following back-to-back victories over Ghana and Cameroon, they will approach the FIFA Confederations Cup 2009 with zeal.
The side's rehabilitation has been a painful process, but South Africa are picking up the broken pieces and hoping to right the wrongs in their set-up. Having endured some painful moments in their football history recently, including failing to qualify for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ and CAF Africa Cup of Nations Angola 2010, there is a strong cause to convince the rest of the world that despite mounting criticism and flagging confidence in this team's capability, they still have something to offer. Calls have been made for a renaissance, and if that has to happen, it will start in at the FIFA Confederations Cup.
South African football went through some of its most profitable years during the mid-1990s, including winning the Africa Cup of Nations in 1996, but the honeymoon period was soon over. In the previous three editions of the continental finals, they failed to proceed beyond the group stage. However, they will find solace in the fact they received praise for putting up a brave performance at Ghana 2008; a tournament in which very little was expected out of them.
Bafana Bafana now boast a crop of emerging players, who are driven by a desire to make the country proud when it hosts the next FIFA World Cup. Under Joel Santana, they have yet to rediscover themselves, although the Brazilian coach has bravely stated that his detractors must judge their displays at the 2009 event. Time to experiment is a luxury Santana does not have, with less than 18 months before South Africa 2010.
It is results, and results alone that will help his team approach the FIFA World Cup with confidence at a time when they will be entrusted with qualifying for at least the knockout phase. Write South Africa off at your own peril, as there is plenty of pride to play for at home.
FIFA ranking, November 2008: 80
Coach: Joel Santana
Stars: Benni McCarthy, Steven Pienaar
Egypt (Champions of Africa)
An African side has yet to win a FIFA Confederations Cup crown, but Egypt are quietly confident they can change this statistic. The continent's most successful side, the Pharaohs have claimed a record six CAF Africa Cup of Nations titles, including back-to-back triumphs in 2006 and 2008.
Over the last four years, the Egyptians have been by far the most consistent team on the continent and underlined their dominance during a flawless Ghana 2008 campaign. Their failure, however, to qualify for Germany 2006 should be a chilling reminder to their fans of their habit to fade in big matches.
Coach Hassan Shehata has assembled a balanced squad, consisting of youth and experience - something that has been working wonders for the team. They reached the final phase of African qualifying for South Africa 2010, and aided by the emergence of Wigan Athletic's Amr Zaki and Boro's Mido, have been looking better with each game.
FIFA ranking, November 2008: 21
Coach: Hassan Shehata
Stars: Amr Zaki, Mohamed Aboutrika, Mido
Brazil (Champions of South America)
Brazil are, on paper, the team to beat. But they have struggled to live up to their favourite's tag in previous major tournaments, including Germany 2006. Following a rocky start to their South Africa 2010 qualification campaign, they are now firmly on track to uphold their unique record of having participated at every FIFA World Cup.
Brazil coaches must cope with incessant demands, though, and Dunga will hope to use the FIFA Confederations Cup to convince the doubters that his side can play exciting football and emerge triumphant. With the likes of Kaka, Ronaldinho and Robinho at the coach's disposal, nothing less than the trophy will satisfy the Brazilian public.
FIFA ranking, November 2008: 5
Stars: Kaka, Ronaldinho, Robinho
Iraq (Champions of Asia)
Iraq are waiting with bated breath for their biggest hour on the international stage. Having only appeared in one FIFA World Cup™, at Mexico 1986, they will be considered outsiders on their FIFA Confederations Cup debut.
Without big names at his disposal, coach Jorvan Vieira has managed to unite a group of players who have fought gallantly for the team, even at times when they had been written off. Unfortunately, they failed to qualify for South Africa 2010 and this tournament will be their sole opportunity to show the rest of the world what they have to offer.
War-torn Iraq's majestic run to gold at the AFC Asian Cup 2007, which included a final victory over a heavily fancied Saudi Arabia in Jakarta, proved they are capable of staging upsets. That fate could befall the world's elite in South Africa if they underestimate the Iraqi challenge.
FIFA ranking, November 2008: 75
Coach: Jorvan Vieira
Stars: Younis Mahmoud, Emad Mohammed