(AP Photo/Eraldo Peres) Clouds loom over the National Stadium during the Group A Confederations Cup opening match between Brazil and Japan, in Brasilia.
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3 things learned from the Confederations Cup this weekend
Spain looked like their old selves and hosts Brazil got up and running.

A SAMBA-THEMED Confederations Cup swung into action in Brazil this past weekend producing stunning goals, notable individual displays and leaving football fans pining for next year’s World Cup at the same venues.

This Confederations Cup tournament is no summer holiday

After a long hard season, players could be forgiven for approaching a summer mini-tournament in South America as an opportunity to recuperate and top up their tans. Yet the most telling point from the three Confederations Cup fixtures completed to date is that each of the participating countries are taking the tournament seriously and not some end of season South American jolly.

Brazil looked good in their first competitive fixture in over two years before seeing off a dogged Japan and although disappointing for long stretches of their 2-1 defeat to a strong Spanish side, Uruguay should still make the last four thanks to the attacking combination of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. Despite playing on a rough looking pitch, Italy and Mexico’s Maracana clash would have graced any World Cup suggesting an intriguing fortnight of competitive action still lies ahead, which is great news for football-starved fans.

Pirlo remains vital to Prandelli and Italy

Although Mario Balotelli may have scored the Azzurri’s winner in their Group B opener with Mexico it was fitting that Andrea Pirlo should mark his 100th international cap with a goal befitting the marvellous Maracana stadium. The 34-year old showed he has lost none of his precision passing or ability to get from box to box underlined by a majestic 25-yard free kick curled into the top corner of the net.

Cesare Prandelli’s 4-2-3-1 formation may not be best suited to getting the best out of the Juventus playmaker (as opposed to a 3-5-2 with Pirlo occupying the central midfield pivot) yet having Roma’s Daniele De Rossi playing alongside him allowed Pirlo to sit deep and prompt a succession of attacks from his own half. What is clear from Pirlo’s latest display is that he remains pivotal to Italy and Prandelli’s chances of success at this and upcoming tournaments.

YouTube credit: Ozico7

Big Phil and Brazil on the right track

A lot done but plenty still to do could be a quote attributed to Brazil’s off-field preparations for next summer’s World Cup rather than Luiz Felipe Scolari’s attempts to settle on his strongest side. Big Phil has been busy moulding a new look squad since taking over from Mano Menezes last year but settling on a 4-2-3-1 formation appears his shrewdest move yet.

The midfield trio of Hulk, Oscar and especially Neymar dovetailed beautifully in the centre of the park and provided a constant source of ammunition for lone striker Fred in the 3-0 win over Japan. Tougher tasks lie ahead but the opening match of the Confederations Cup suggests Scolari and his star-studded squad are on the right track ahead of next summer’s World Cup when the pressure is certain to move into overdrive for the host country.

Ger McCarthy is an Irish-based freelance sports journalist and published author. A regular contributor to Irish daily national The Irish Examiner, he also pens weekly columns for both the Evening Echo & Southern Star newspapers. Has written extensively for the Setanta Sports, NewsTalk, and Shoot! Football magazine web sites and is a regular member of Back Page Football’s Hold The Back Page football podcast. His first book ‘Off Centre Circle’ about a lifetime spent toiling in the amateur football leagues of Ireland received critical acclaim.

Luis Suarez scored this free-kick for Uruguay but Spain get off to a flier in Brazil

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