Rejoice everybody – there is football to watch (and punt on) for the next two weeks! And not just any football, either: the Confederations Cup, which takes on extra significance for hosts Brazil and their boss, former Chelsea manager Luis Felipe Scolari, who is using the competition as the dressiest of dress rehearsals for the real thing next year.
Come 12 months’ time, Brazil 2014 will be underway and Scolari will be expected to win the World Cup for a second time and crown a glorious tournament on their own patch.
And to that end, the Confederations Cup is not just a FIFA-endorsed, money-making shindig (although it is that as well) but an important exercise in competitive football for a nation that is in need of sharpening up.
Now as low as 22 in the FIFA world rankings – 22! – Brazil need to get their act together ahead of next year as their young team, spearheaded by the Barcelona-bound Neymar, shoulders the (unrealistic?) expectations of a nation that will accept nothing other than victory, and in style.
So their opening game of the Confederations Cup against Japan is a huge event, and one they are expected to win.
Unsurprisingly, Brazil are strong favourites at 13/50, with the draw at 19/4 and the Japanese cast as huge 35/4 outsiders.
Japan are the first nation to have qualified for the World Cup after securing their passage from the Asian qualification section with a win over Iraq last time out and even though that victory is their only one in four internationals, they have it in them to make it more difficult for their hosts than the odds imply.
This is Brazil’s first competitive game for 23 months and their form since Scolari returned last year has been average: the Samba Boys have won just two of the seven games under the former Portugal boss as he tries to implement his style upon the squad, so a price of 13/50 looks a bit short.
But Brazil are scoring goals – they have struck 15 in those seven games – and if they are to win, it could well be by scoring a few, so instead of taking the price on a home win I’ll go with their in-form striker to find the net.
And no, that isn’t Neymar, but Fred, who is 6/5 to strike at any time and that is a decent bet.
The Fluminense forward has been in fine form for his country and has bagged five goals in his last six international appearances.
He seems at home as the focal point of Scolari’s 4-2-3-1 formation and is certainly better value than the short odds on a home win.