The thoughts of many football fans are already consumed by the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. However, there is still plenty on the menu beforehand, not least its sumptuous appetizer.
This year's FIFA Confederations Cup has an extra special flavour to it, with holders Brazil, reigning world champions Italy and European kings Spain joined by Egypt, Iraq, New Zealand, USA and the hosts. These teams will be determined to make a statement between 14 and 28 June, as will their players, who will be eager to cement places in their respective squads as South Africa 2010 approaches.
"We are really excited to be taking part in this tournament in this wonderful country," said Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque. "It should be a great tournament. It's wide open so we'll see who emerges as the best." Dunga, his Brazilian counterpart, agreed: "It will be really competitive and ideal preparation for the World Cup."
With the exception of the host nation, of course, no team has yet confirmed their presence at South Africa 2010, but the race will continue apace before reaching its conclusion in November, when a series of play-offs will determine the final qualifiers. A number of questions remain to be answered: How will Diego Maradona fare in the Argentinian hot-seat? Can France and Portugal recover from poor starts to make the cut? Can Nigeria maintain their impeccable form and seal a return to the FIFA World Cup?
Coaches whose sides are in the running will be paying close attention to the FIFA U-20 World Cup, which will take place in Egypt between 25 September and 16 October. Angel Di Maria, Ever Banega, Mauro Zarate and Sergio Aguero helped Argentina to glory at the 2007 edition, while the likes of Brazilian Alexandre Pato, USA's Jozy Altidore and Diego Capel of Spain also graced Canadian soil, and this year's running is guaranteed to produce a fresh crop of glistening talents.
The FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009 will certainly do likewise. A perennially intoxicating tournament, it has previously unearthed, among many other superstars, Emmanuel Petit, Luis Figo, Alessandro Del Piero, Francesco Totti, Ronaldinho and Fernando Torres. "These competitions are two of the highlights of the international calendar for 2009," enthused FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter.
On the club scene, the FIFA Club World Cup will round off 2009, but football enthusiasts have more than just the 11-a-side discipline to look forward to, with the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup set to provide its customary thrill on the beautiful sands of Dubai.
2009 certainly boasts a packed schedule and, as always, FIFA.com will be be on hand to provide you with extensive coverage.