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FIFA Confederations Cup

A festival of nicknames

Brazilian players Marcelo (2nd-L) and Hulk (2nd-R) take part in a training session in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on May 30, 2013. Brazil will face England in a friendly match on June 2 at the Mario Filho "Maracana" stadium in Rio. AFP

How well do you know Givanildo Vieira De Sousa? Or how about Frederico Chaves Guedes and Jose Paulo Bezerra Maciel Junior? Not in the slightest, you might think, but the trio are actually among the most celebrated footballers on the planet. They are certainly familiar to Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who will be counting on each of them in this month's 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup. After all, behind the lengthy full names lurk three of A Seleção's most potent attacking weapons: Hulk, Fred and Paulinho.

Nicknames have always been serious business in football and, as those examples show, nowhere is that truer than Brazil. They have long been integral to Brazilian sporting culture, and with the country gearing up to host the Festival dos Campeões (Festival of Champions), lifts the lid on some of the other colourful monikers due to grace the tournament – those of competing teams Uruguay, Mexico, Italy, Spain, Japan, Nigeria, Tahiti and the hosts themselves.

True to form, Brazil boast a whole range of aliases, with A Seleção *('Selection' in Portuguese) the most familiar to fans around the world. The five-time world champions also go by *Canarinhos (Canaries) and Auriverdes (Green and Gold), both terms inspired by the colour of the team's strip. Interestingly, Brazil have only worn yellow since the 1950s, having draped themselves in white until that colour was banished for good in the wake of their painful defeat by Uruguay in the final of the 1950 FIFA World Cup™ on home soil.

Their South American rivals also owe their nickname to the hue of their shirts, Uruguay fans labelling their heroes La Celeste in recognition of their light blue uniforms – a colour worn since 1910 in a tribute to now defunct local outfit FC River Plate, one of the country's first great clubs. The national side are likewise known as Los Charrúas, a moniker that references the Amerindian people who settled on land now belonging to Uruguay and Brazil in the 19th Century.

Over in Europe at around the same time, Victor Emmanuel II was busy helping to unify Italy, and he became the country's first king in 1861. A member of the House of Savoy, whose livery colour is blue, he is the reason La Nazionale wear their particular shirts and why Cesare Prandelli's troops are nicknamed *Gli Azzurri *(the Blues). Indeed, blue does not figure as one of the country's official colours, the flag of Italy being made up of red, white and green.

So too is the flag of Mexico, but, unlike the Italians, the North American side opted to base their strip on that very same colour scheme – and hence their nickname El Tricolor, which is often shortened to El Tri. Since green enjoys the upper hand over red and white in their uniforms, Mexico have gradually come to be known as La Verde as well, or even Los Ratones Verdes (Green mice) when their faithful supporters are a little less impressed with the team's performances.

In a similar vein, the Super Eagles of *Nigeria *– so called due to the country's coat of arms – found themselves rechristened the Super Chickens by certain critics after their disappointing start at the 2013 CAF Africa Cup of Nations. "I challenge my players to do better, to prove people wrong and get rid of this ridiculous name that's been attached to a team that's always been considered a powerhouse of African football," commented Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi. The message clearly worked, as his side went on to win the competition, booking themselves a trip to the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 in the process. It was not the first time that Nigeria had undergone a change of identity either. The national side were originally known as the Red Devils in the 1950s and became the Green Eagles following independence in 1960, before earning their 'super' sobriquet after winning the continental title in 1994.

Even more recently than that, Japan were handed their Samurai Blue alias on a plate by the Japan Football Association (JFA) just a few years ago. "We needed a nickname to support our team during the 2006 FIFA World Cup," explained JFA communications officer Megumi Fujinoki. "So to choose a name, we put five options to a vote by the fans and they picked Samurai Blue." The winning candidate, of course, harks back to the warriors who ruled feudal Japan for nearly 700 years.

The martial theme resonates in Tahiti as well, with the Toa Aito *(Iron Warriors) defending the island's honour on the pitch. Used separately, the words 'toa' and 'aito' also refer to a type of tree, more popularly known as the 'filao'. Extremely common throughout French Polynesia, the wood of this tree is used to build 'tiki', carved sculptures designed to bring luck – and the nickname of Tahiti's beach soccer team (Tiki Toa*).

Spain steer clear of any references to warriors, but La Furia Roja (Red Fury) hope to intimidate their rivals all the same. Studies carried out by psychologists specialising in sport have shown that the colour red communicates strength, aggression, confidence and balance – all qualities that La Roja will be looking to employ as they chase the one title missing from their list of honours. They have a long way to go if they are to depose Brazil, however, as *A Seleção *reign supreme with a trio of FIFA Confederations Cup triumphs – another record for the kings of the football nickname!

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