Tahiti

Neymar wins best player, and yes, Torres picks up another award

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This is becoming a bit of a joke, albeit a particularly funny one as soccer jokes go. Spanish striker Fernando Torres, by virtue of registering one more assist than Brazil’s Fred, has won the 2013 Confederations Cup Golden Shoe award as the tournament’s top scorer. He joins Neymar, voted the tournament’s best player, and Julio Cesar, best goalkeeper, as individual award winners after Sunday’s final, but given Torres’s much-discussed struggles, the perceived irony of another top scorer’s award may receive as much attention as Neymar’s expected honor.

Torres’s five goals, four of which came against Tahiti, left him even at the top of the competitions scoring list, allowing him to add this individual award  to the Euro 2012 Golden Boot won last year. Then Torres was one of six players to finish with three goals, winning the honor on a tiebreaker, though he was not selected to the all-tournament team.

Since moving to Chelsea FC in January 2011, Torres has only scored 15 goals in 82 Premier League games. At international level, Torres has scored 10 times in 24 games, with six goals coming against Tahiti and Ireland.

Torres played 59 minutes today in Rio de Janeiro and had very little impact on the match, arguably his least influential performance in Brazil. Aside from his four against Tahiti, Torres scored against Nigeria in the final match of group play. He was scoreless in 94 minutes against Italy in the tournament’s semifinal.

The tournament’s most prestigious individual award, however, went to Brazil’s Neymar, who added two assists to the four goals that helped the Seleçao to their third-straight Confederations Cup title. After disappointing in his other major senior tournament, the 2011 Copa America, Neymar took over the festivities in Brazil, scoring within three minutes of the tournament’s start against Japan and adding a thunderous goal just before halftime of Sunday’s final.

Only 21 years old, Neymar has never played club soccer outside of Brazil, leading to a debate of his talents ahead of his impending debut with Barcelona. But in a dominant tournament in which Brazil ran a gauntlet of quality opposition (Japan, Mexico, Italy, Uruguay and Spain), the former Santos forward may have assuaged many’s doubts. Perhaps you could complain we still don’t know how Neymar will performed outside of Brazil geographically, but we have a clue as to how he’ll perform against high-level talent.

Julio Cesar, Brazil’s goalkeeper, achieved vindication of a different sort. After a club season that saw him sold by Inter Milan ahead of losing his job at Queen’s Part Rangers, Cesar ceded has place among the world’s best goalkeepers. Whether he reclaims such a spot remains to be seen, but having allowed only three goals in five Confederations Cup games, Cesar may have sparked the discussion, having been awarded the tournament’s Golden Glove.

Andres Iniesta won the Silver Ball as the tournament’s second best player, with Corinthians’ Paulinho claiming Bronze. Fred was awarded the Silver Shoe, while Neymar picked up the award as the tournament’s third-leading scorer.

Spain won the Confederations Cup’s Fair Play award.

Spain, Uruguay are through to the Confederations Cup semifinals

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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.

Confederations Cup Preview: Nigeria vs. Spain, Uruguay vs. Tahiti

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This afternoon sees the last group stage games of the Confederations Cup in Brazil, as Nigeria need a win against Spain to try and seal a place in the semifinals from Group B.

Uruguay has the much simpler task of beating Tahiti, who lost 6-1 to Nigeria in their opener and 10-0 to Spain last time out.

That loss was a Confederations Cup record, as the heaviest defeat in the tournaments history.

But can Tahiti cause a huge upset against the Uruguayans this afternoon? In a word. No.

However the global soccer community will be watching on intently to see how Tahiti respond after that hammering from world champions Spain.

Speaking of the Spanish, they could recall plenty of starters against Nigeria as their ticket to the semifinals is not mathematically booked despite wins against Uruguay and Tahiti. If Nigeria defeat Spain by four goals or more and Uruguay also win, then the Spanish could bow out at the group stage. However that scenario playing out is highly unlikely.

Nigeria meanwhile need to overcome Spain and hope that Tahiti somehow draw or beat Uruguay, if the Super Eagles are going to make the semifinals.

(MORE: Spain defeat Tahiti 10-0 as professionalism rules)

John Obi Mikel will be doing his best to break up the play in midfield but even if the African Cup of Nations champions do pull off a huge shock and beat Spain, their fate is no longer in their own hands. Nigeria haven’t defeated a European side since a 1-0 friendly win over France in 2009.

While Uruguay are buoyant after the vital 2-1 win against Nigeria. Diego Forlan emerged as the hero, with the veteran striker reminding us why he was named player of the tournament during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Uruguay head coach Oscar Tabarez will be missing skipper Diego Lugano through suspension but plenty of squad players will get the chance to shine.

La Celeste will be hoping a large win over Tahiti will be enough to see them through to the semifinals. Meanwhile Tahiti’s global profile has risen dramatically since the tournament began and their head coach Eddy Etaeta has promised to play all three of his goalkeepers at some point during this evening’s game with Uruguay.

A tense and thrilling finale is set up for Group B, with plenty of goals and top action expected as this wonderful Confederations Cup tournament continues.

Both games will start at 3pm ET, and you can watch Spain vs. Nigeria live on ESPN and Uruguay vs. Tahiti on ESPN 2.

Del Bosque, Torres dub Tahiti as “noble opponents”

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Tahiti may have lost 10-0, but they’ve captivated the soccer community.

Despite the scoreline, both teams played with professionalism and a love for the game in mind, and the Spanish squad publicly recognized the hearts of the Tahitians.

Fernando Torres has faced criticism throughout his years at Stamford Bridge, but he was the first to acknowledge how Tahiti played the game. “All of us have become big fans of that team” said Torres after accepting his Man-of-the-Match award. “We have all had our photos taken together – it was a joy to play in that match and not just because we won so easily, but because they were sporting and despite losing they played with a smile on their faces from the first kick to the last.”

Torres continued, saying Tahiti provided an example for others to follow. “They tried to play football and although the result proved there is a massive difference between the teams, that was not the most important thing. The most important thing was it was sporting contest. A lot of other teams should follow their example.”

Spain coach Vicente del Bosque echoed Torres’ claims, saying the way Tahiti played is a positive sign for the sport as a whole.

“It was quite humbling to play against them,” the boss said. “They were sporting, they played really fairly and every time they got the ball they tried to attack us. They were noble opponents. Of course the gap between professional and amateur football is huge but with the respect each team showed, I think football has been strengthened today and not weakened.”

The Tahitians were mostly praised after the match for not trying to “park the bus” by shoving everyone behind the ball, but instead attempting to build attacks of their own.

Tahiti coach Eddy Etaeta said that while he was disappointed with a number of the goals conceded, believes they’ve still “won a major victory by winning the hearts of the Brazilian public.”

Etaeta thinks their country is vastly improving, and is asking club teams around the world to give his players a chance so they may gain the experience necessary to qualify for a World Cup in the near future. “We are laying some foundations. We will improve if some of our players move to professional clubs overseas. Not the top clubs naturally, but if we had more professionals the game could improve at home, and who knows about the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.”

It’s a longshot, but you can’t fault the effort and the heart.

Professionalism rules as Spain breaks FIFA record in 10-0 win over Tahiti

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Everyone was put in a tough position prior to this match.

With tiny Tahiti’s qualification for the Confederations Cup and drawn in the same group as the #1-ranked team in the world, it was an awkward situation for everyone involved.

The Tahitians went in knowing they’d be sent to the slaughter.

The Spaniards had to walk the line of professionalism and sportsmanship.

The fans were left unsure of whether to hope for excitement, an upset, goals, or a blowout.

In the end, Spain set the FIFA record for margin of victory and tied the record for goals in a match, and everyone got through the ordeal with their professional reputations intact, if not their egos.

It was a thrashing of epic proportions, but that doesn’t mean it was unsportsmanlike.

Spain should be praised for winning in an unparalleled fashion, but at the same time remaining entirely respectful and classy.

There were no individual displays of skill meant to show off and embarrass their lowly opponents.  There was no showboating.  The Spaniards congratulated their opponents at the end of the match and switched jerseys with the Tahitian players.

Most importantly, the Spain team showed the Tahiti squad as much respect as possible by not shutting the power down entirely.  It was obvious Spain wasn’t trying their hardest – after Torres embarrassed himself with his missed penalty, the striker actually turned on the gas for once and the result was a goal within 30 seconds.  However, the ultimate insult in a professional match would have been to stop trying altogether.

Tahiti must also be praised.  They didn’t give up, and their manager Eddy Etaeta didn’t park the bus, instead choosing to press everyone forward.  It backfired, but it represented an appreciation for the match, for the game, and for the opportunity presented to them.  The squad should be lauded for taking this opportunity with open arms.  They earned it (by FIFA’s standards, which one could argue should be reconsidered) and gave it their all. Spain recognized this.

Neither side played up fouls, nobody dove, no one got nasty, and everyone played with a respect for the situation.

The fans also should be commended.  Each touch in the first half by Tahiti was cheered.  Fans who begun rooting for goals ended up not only feeling bad about what they had been cheering for but also enjoyed the effort by the underdogs.

Even the referee should be lauded.  He didn’t give the far better team calls for being better, and he didn’t give the poor underdogs any pity calls.  It was a fairly called match, and the referee respected the game by doing so.

In a match which resulted in utter demolition on the scoreboard, it was the wonderful displays of respect, class, and professionalism that are the real story.  The game is played by people, not numbers, and those people did us proud.