Sports

Confederations Cup: Yet another trophy for Ronaldo?

Tournament will showcase Russian stadiums

(CNN) - This may be the one soccer major tournament where losing has an upside.

Since it's start in 1992, no Confederations Cup winner has gone on to win the following year's World Cup.

The tournament pits the winners of each of world governing body FIFA's six continental tournaments against the previous World Cup Finals winners, and future hosts -- in this case Russia -- a year before its showcase tournament.

This year's cup boasts two of the biggest stars on the planet in Cristiano Ronaldo and Alexis Sanchez, but will also field 94th ranked New Zealand, who could struggle just to keep its matches competitive.

Russia has been grouped with European champion Portugal, New Zealand and Mexico, while World Cup titleholder Germany heads the other group featuring Chile, Cameroon and Australia.

The tournament will showcase four of the 12 stadiums built or refurbished for next year's World Cup, and will take place in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan and Sochi.

Over time, the tournament has been a chance for host countries to work through teething problems ahead of the World Cup. Based on violence displayed by some Russian fans, who clashed with England supporters, at the Euro 2016 tournament in France, quelling any repeat will be a top priority for Russian organizers.

'Guaranteed safety'

Another priority will be ensuring that Russian spectators refrain from making racist gestures that have emerged during club matches over the past decade.

Retired footballer Alexey Smertin, who was appointed Russian football's anti-racism chief last year, says he "can guarantee" safety for World Cup 2018 attendees.

"(There) won't be an incident," he told CNN's World Sport show. "We are taking it seriously. I can guarantee that the World Cup will be in the best level you've ever seen."

Guarantees aside, the former Chelsea and Bordeaux midfielder will have his work cut out for him.

Newly published figures from football watchdog FARE Network cite an average of 90 incidents of "racist and far-right displays in Russian football" in each of the past five seasons.

Last month, a parade in Sochi, billed as "celebration of the different continents, and a testimony of Russia's open attitude toward traditions from around the globe" included men wearing blackface and carrying bananas.

"Unfortunately they did it," Smertin acknowledges. "My role is to educate because some people don't know that their acts hurt people ... and they need to know."

Tournament guide

Here's an inside look at the eight teams, and how they rank before the opening match between Russia and New Zealand on Saturday.

Russia (FIFA rank: 63)

Qualification: Automatic berth as host nation

Coach: Stanislav Cherchesov (Russia)

Key players: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Denis Glushakov (Spartak Moscow), Fyodor Smolov (FC Krasnodar)

Analysis: Russia made an underwhelming impact at last year's Euros, failing to win a match while sustaining a 3-0 loss to Wales. The side, led by captain and goalkeeper Akinfeev, is composed entirely of players from the Russian Premier League. Smolov can score goals, netting 25 times in 31 appearances for Krasnodar last season.

Germany (FIFA rank: 3)

Qualification: Winner of 2014 World Cup

Coach: Joachim Löw (Germany)

Key players: Julian Draxler (Paris Saint-Germain), Antonio Rudiger (Roma), Jonas Hector (FC Köln)

Analysis: Even without stars Toni Kroos, Thomas Müller, Mesut Özil, Leroy Sané and Manuel Neuer -- all rested or recovering from injury -- Germany has enough firepower to take the tournament. Giving youngsters like Bayer Leverkusen striker Julian Brandt match experience ahead of next year's World Cup Finals will be Löw's top priority, however.

Chile (FIFA rank: 4)

Qualification: Won 2015 and 2016 Copa America tournaments

Coach: Juan Antonio Pizzi (Argentina)

Key players: Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal), Arturo Vidal (Bayern Munich), Claudio Bravo (Manchester City)

Analysis: It would be foolish to bet against the Chileans in Russia. Coming off major tournament wins over the last two summers, and fielding the second-best talent of the tournament in Sanchez, "La Roja" will be eager to prove that the country's success extends beyond the Americas.

Portugal (FIFA rank: 8)

Qualification: Winner of Euro 2016

Coach: Fernando Santos (Portugal)

Key players: Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Pepe (Real Madrid), Nani (Valencia)

Analysis: Remarkably, Ronaldo did not ask for a rest. Coming off perhaps the most complete year in football history, scoring 42 goals in 46 appearances with Real Madrid, while sweeping La Liga, Champions League and Euro 2016 honors, it would have been understandable if the 32-year-old sat out to recuperate before another big campaign. Instead, Portugal will be without the services of Bayern Munich midfielder Renato Sanches -- Young Player of the Tournament at Euro 2016 -- and striker Eder, both dropped by Santos.

Mexico (FIFA rank: 17)

Qualification: Won 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup, then beat 2013 winners USA in a one-match qualifier

Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio (Colombia)

Key players: Andrés Guardado (PSV), Carlos Vela (Real Sociedad), Javier Hernández (Bayern Leverkusen)

Analysis: "El Tri" are in excellent form, with nine wins and three draws in their last 12 World Cup qualifiers, while compiling an astounding 22-3 goals ratio.

Mexico, who won the 1999 Confederations Cup, and took home gold in the 2012 Olympics, are no slouches on the big stage. A match against Portugal on the tournament's second day will test Osorio's game strategy early on.

Cameroon (FIFA rank: 32)

Qualification: Won 2017 Africa Cup of Nations

Coach: Hugo Broos (Belgium)

Key players: Benjamin Moukandjo (Lorient), Vincent Aboubakar (Besiktas), Christian Bassogog (Henan Jianye FC)

Analysis: Liverpool's Joel Matip is again a notable absentee from the Indomitable Lions squad -- though the team did not miss him on the way to winning the AFCON in Gabon last January.

Abubaker -- who notched the winner in the final against Egypt -- leads a team brimming with international experience. Twenty-one-year-old Bassogog, who plies his trade in China, took home player of the tournament honors at the Africa Cup.

Australia (FIFA rank: 48)

Qualification: Won 2015 Asia Cup

Coach: Ange Postecoglou (Australia)

Key players: Tim Cahill (Melbourne City), Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa), Mathew Ryan (Valencia)

Analysis: Thirty-seven-year-old wonder Cahill leads a squad bereft of top-level European experience. Teammates like goalkeeper Mathew Ryan will need to step up if the Socceroos are to advance past the group stage.

New Zealand (FIFA rank: 95)

Qualification: Won 2016 OFC Nations Cup

Coach: Anthony Hudson (England)

Key players: Stefan Marinovic (Unterhaching), Kosta Barbarouses (free agent), Chris Wood (Leeds)

Analysis: Leaving this tournament with one win from its three group stage matches would be a result for young coach Hudson, whose brief prior experience features a stint coaching Bahrain.

The Kiwis open the tournament against hosts Russia. Striker Wood -- who is averaging a goal in every two appearances at Leeds -- must be in top form for New Zealand to have a chance at an upset.


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