A look at 10 of the top players at Confed Cup
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP)
A look at 10 of the best players so far at this year's Confederations Cup in Brazil:
The Brazil striker and newly-signed Barcelona player has lived up to his billing as the future of Brazilian football at the Confederations Cup, scoring in each of the three group matches and being involved in both goals in the semifinal win over Uruguay. The 21-year-old Neymar, who entered the tournament under massive pressure to perform in front of local fans, has become the face of football in Brazil, with his image plastered on advertisements everywhere. Another goal in the final against Spain will surely serve to increase the expectation on him for next year's World Cup.
2. Andrea Pirlo
Pirlo's reputation as a maestro in the midfield has only been enhanced over the last two weeks in Brazil. Although Italy lost to Spain on penalties in the semifinals, Pirlo has been at his usual best throughout the tournament. The Italy playmaker controls the midfield with ease and distributes the ball to all sides. And he scores, too. Playing in the first competitive match at the newly renovated Maracana Stadium on June 16, Pirlo curled in a perfect free kick to put Italy on its way to a 2-1 victory over Mexico -- in his 100th match for the Azzuri.
3. Andres Iniesta
Iniesta is rarely flashy, but he always seems to get himself involved in the play. With Xavi Hernandez still in charge in the midfield, it's Iniesta who often makes the darting runs that open up opposing defenses, leaving them scrambling to contain him and teammates such as David Villa, Fernando Torres and David Silva. At this year's Confederations Cup, Iniesta has yet to score, but having him in the lineup has played a part in some of the 10 goals that Villa, Torres and Silva have combined to score.
With just about all the focus in Brazil on Neymar, strike partner Fred has quietly become just as threatening in front of goal. The Fluminense striker has scored three goals in four matches, including two against Italy and another against Uruguay in the semifinals.
5. Julio Cesar
Against a great player and against a tough team, Julio Cesar may have saved Brazil in the Confederations Cup. Uruguay striker Diego Forlan had an early chance to give his team the lead from the penalty spot on Wednesday in the semifinals, but the Brazil goalkeeper guessed correctly and made the save. Brazil went on to win 2-1, and Julio Cesar called his key stop ''the most important penalty I was able to save.''
6. Jordi Alba
A Barcelona defender, Alba scored a pair of big goals for Spain at the Confederations Cup. Although the world champions were never in any real danger of being eliminated in the group stage, Alba's two goals against Nigeria ensured the team finished at the top of Group B and avoided Brazil in the semifinals.
Paulinho is quickly becoming a key player for Brazil. The Corinthians midfielder is one of the youngsters that Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari is counting on for next year's World Cup, and he came through in Wednesday's win over Uruguay, heading in a corner from Neymar to give Brazil a 2-1 victory and a spot in the final of the Confederations Cup.
8. Daniele De Rossi
De Rossi has again proved to be a solid asset for Italy, and at the Confederations Cup he has also proved to be versatile. The Italy veteran played in his usual defensive midfield role in the first two matches, scoring once in the two wins, before missing the final group match against Brazil because of yellow cards. In the penalty shootout loss to Spain, De Rossi dropped back to central defense and played a huge role in keeping Spain scoreless for 120 minutes. De Rossi then scored in the shootout.
9. Jesus Navas
Nary a star on a team loaded with stars, Navas came up huge for Spain when he needed to. The former Sevilla winger came on for David Silva in the second half of Thursday's semifinal match against Italy and later scored the winning penalty in the 7-6 shootout victory that put the world champions into a final against host Brazil.
10. Mario Balotelli
The volatile striker scored in Italy's opening two matches, including an 18th penalty in 18 attempts as a professional. He also set up another as Italy advanced to the semifinals of the Confederations Cup. But Balotelli left Brazil early, missing the shootout loss to Spain because of a strained thigh.
Honorable Mention: Jonathan Tehau
The Tahiti midfielder's header was nothing spectacular, but it was a goal -- a goal for Tahiti at a global football tournament. Trailing 3-0 to Nigeria in their opening group match, the Tahitians pulled one back to the delight of the Brazilian fans when Tehau headed in a corner early in the second half. It proved to be Tahiti's only goal in the World Cup warm-up tournament.