5 strikers to watch at Confederations Cup
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP)
The world's top strikers are on show at the Confederations Cup in Brazil, a warm-up tournament for next year's World Cup. Here are some of the players to watch for. Also, some of the very best players did not make it.
The host's rock-star forward, the 21-year-old Neymar already met expectations by scoring the first goal of the tournament in Brazil's 3-0 win over Japan on Saturday. Earlier this month, Neymar signed a five-year deal with Barcelona, ending his highly successful tenure at Santos, Pele's former club, where he scored 54 goals in 103 appearances - more than one goal every two matches. Known as much for his dramatic hairstyle as his sublime skills.
Just 22, Mario Balotelli is easily Italy's most explosive player. His two-goal performance in the Azzurri's victory over Germany in the semifinals of last year's European Championship was his most memorable night with the national team, and he now seems rejuvenated after transferring to AC Milan in January. Having played only occasionally with Manchester City previously, Balotelli scored 12 goals in 13 appearances with Milan and also seems to have kept out of trouble after a turbulent period in England.
Liverpool striker Luis Suarez is the main man for Uruguay, and he needs to use this tournament to rehabilitate himself. He has a long list of disciplinary problems, highlighted by his 10-match ban for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic in April. Along with national team strike partner Edinson Cavani - who led Serie A with 29 goals last season - Suarez is weighing his options on the transfer market. Both Suarez and Cavani have indicated they would like to join Real Madrid. When he behaves himself, Suarez has unmatched goal-scoring ability and can be a pleasure to watch.
Mexico's Javier ''Chicharito'' Hernandez lost his starting position this season with Manchester United, but still scored 18 goals. He has 50 in three seasons in England and has scored 32 in 50 games with the national team. With Mexico's World Cup qualifying chances in question, the Central American side needs a strong performance from Chicharito to improve morale. Has built up his muscles in England, but can still be shrugged off the ball too easily by powerful defenders.
At 29, ''El Nino'' is no longer a kid but the Spain forward is searching to recover the devastating form he showed with Liverpool. His first English Premier League goal of 2013 came in Chelsea's final match of the season, although he did score the first goal in Chelsea's 2-1 win over Benfica in the Europa League final last month and managed 23 in all competitions. With three goals and one assist, Torres also won the Golden Boot at last year's European Championship. Still, he shares star status for Spain with the Barcelona block of Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Cesc Fabregas and David Villa. He's a confidence player. An early goal can transform his performances, but he also tests coach's patience.
Arguably, the three best forwards in football are missing from this tournament:
Argentina's Lionel Messi is the four-time FIFA world player of the year and tops most lists of the world's best players. But the Barcelona forward is still hoping to leave his mark with the national team, where his only significant title was the 2008 Olympic gold medal. At the 2011 Copa America - the winner of which enters the Confederations Cup - Argentina was eliminated by eventual champion Uruguay on penalties in the quarterfinals.
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo has won a total of four domestic league titles with Manchester United and his current squad Real Madrid, plus the 2007-08 Champions League with United. His best run with his national team came when Portugal reached the final of Euro 2004 as host, losing to surprise Greece in the final.
Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic has become known as a striker for hire, having played for European powers Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan and now Paris Saint-Germain. However, Sweden's national team struggles to compete with the European powers like Spain, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, and did not even qualify for the 2010 World Cup.