Nigeria will need to channel the spirit of their golden generation in order to claim a victory against Spain that would realistically give them a chance of making it through to the semifinals of the Confederations Cup. After their defeat to Uruguay and, based on the justified assumption that the South American champions defeat minnows Tahiti, Nigeria will have to beat world and European champions Spain as well as striving for a better goal difference.
It is a daunting task, but Nigeria can draw inspiration from the only other time the two sides have met. In the 1998 World Cup, a Nigeria side featuring the talents of Sunday Oliseh, Jay Jay Okocha and Taribo West beat Spain 3-2 in a thrilling game in the group stage as they progressed to the round of 16 at their opponent’s expense.
Unfortunately coach Stephen Keshi cannot call on that level of talent in Fortaleza on Sunday. With Keshi already excluding some of the nation’s bigger name players in a, largely successful, effort to forge greater unity, the squad is crucially missing established talents like Chelsea’s Victor Moses and Spartak Moscow’s Emmanuel Emenike through injury. There is much reliance on John Mikel Obi, who scored a fine goal against Uruguay that looked like it might secure his side a vital point. But Keshi refuses to concede that getting the better of Spain is an impossible task.
“Anything can happen against Spain,” he said, according to FIFA.com. “Everything is achievable. It depends on how much desire you have in you, how badly you want it and of course an element of luck to be on your side. I cannot question the boys’ level of commitment and their loyalty.”
It is also, of course, a much different Spain side from the one that previously continued failed to produce in major tournaments. In Brazil, La Roja are going for the one international trophy still to elude them. There has been nothing witnessed in the competition so far that would suggest that Spain will not go on and lift the Confederations Cup to complete an incredible clean sweep of silverware.
Spain produced the best performance of any side in the competition in their opening match against Uruguay. And in their second match Spain’s second 11 brushed aside Tahiti for a record score in the finals of a FIFA tournament, 10-0. Against Nigeria, Vicente del Bosque is likely to restore the bulk of the players that started the opening match. While they could still conceivably fail to progress from the group, it would require a heavy defeat to Nigeria and a massive win for Uruguay over Tahiti.
D: Ambrose, Omeruo, Obabona, Echiejile
M: Ogude, Mikel, Ogu
F: Oduamadi, Brown, Musa
D: Arbeloa, Pique, Ramos, Alba
M: Xavi, Busquets, Fabregas
F: Pedro, Soldado, Iniesta
Prediction: Nigeria were better against Uruguay that in their error-strewn opening match against Tahiti. However, it is a side that desperately lacks creativity in the middle and, with Moses and Emenike out, they struggle to make things happen in the final third. Their best hope of getting at Spain will be down the left side if the lightning-quick Ahmed Musa and forward-thinking full-back Elderson Echiejile can combine.
But Nigeria also have vulnerabilities at the back that Spain could well exploit. With Roberto Soldado likely to come back into the side, they will again have that extra cutting edge that made them consistently threatening going forward in the first half against Uruguay. A comfortable Spanish win should be on the cards.
Nigeria 0-3 Spain
Where to watch: The Confederations Cup Group B match will kick-off from the Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN, with a live stream available on Watch ESPN.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.