Let’s thank Nigeria for giving us one surprise from today’s action, though surprise may be too strong. The Super Eagles came out and tried to go toe-to-toe with the world champions, their speed, athleticism and willingness to fly forward giving early indications Spain were in for their tournament’s most difficult match. Though their eventual 3-0 win may look like Spain’s typical score-and-control approach, there was little typical about the challenge Nigeria posed in Fortaleza.
For their effort — one that saw Spain struggle to impose their typical control on the game — Stephen Keshi’s team were rewarded with a tournament exit, their loss combined with Uruguay’s 8-0 walk over Tahiti allowing the South American champions to clinch second place in Group B. Along with Spain, they join Brazil and Italy from Group A in the semifinals, with La Celeste opening the tournament’s knockout round Wednesday against the host nation.
The Uruguayans started a much-changed side against the Tahitians, though their depth in attack prevailed when Palermo forward Abel Hernández posted a first half hat trick, sending his team into intermission up 4-0. Early in the second, veteran defender Andre Scotti had a chance to add to his team’s lead only to see his penalty kick saved by Gilbert Meriel.
Moments later, the 37-year-old became the first player dismissed at this year’s tournament, earning a second yellow card that left Uruguay with 10 for the last 39 minutes. Undeterred, Uruguay added goals from Nicolas Lodiero, Hernández, and Luis Suárez (twice), leaving Tahiti with 24 goals allowed over their three Confederations Cup matches.
In Fortaleza, Jordi Alba’s early goal gave Spain a quick lead, an advantage that proved valuable as a fearless Nigerian side constantly disrupted Spain’s buildup as it approached the attacking third. The resulting counters tested Spain’s central defenders, though that only gave Sergio Ramos and Gerard Piqué a chance to remind us of qualities they’re rarely able to show amid Spain’s possession-hogging ways.
Mid-way through the second half, Fernando Torres provided Spain with some much-needed insurance, coming off the bench to record his fifth goal of the tournament. Although his club teammate John Obi Mikel tried to push his Nigerian team back into the match, the team’s ambitious forays never paid off, with Mohamed Gambo’s 75th minute chance the closest the Super Eagles came to opening their account.
An 89th minute breakaway converted by Alba gave Spain’s left back an unlikely brace. The goal left Nigeria with a deceptively lopsided 3-0 loss and us to marvel at the type of quality that can put up a three-goal win against such a strong Nigerian effort.
Next up for the Spaniards is a rematch of last year’s European Championships final, with Italy coming out of Group B to meet them in Thursday’s semi. The winner will face Brazil or Uruguay in next Sunday’s final, with the loser relegated to the tournament’s third place match.