Spain began their quest to win the one international trophy to so far elude them in fine style with a 2-1 win over Uruguay at the confederations Cup. The close nature of the scoreline flattered the South American champions, as Spain were utterly dominant throughout.
In an exceptional first-half performance that showcased their still exhilarating passing and movement, Spain profited with goals from Pedro --although it might later go down as an own-goal for Diego Lugano and Roberto Soldado. Spain then took their foot off the peddle after the break and for just a brief time it appeared that they may pay for their relaxed approach when Luis Suarez pulled Uruguay back within a goal with an excellent free-kick two minutes from the end.
It would have been a huge injustice had Uruguay got something from a game in which they offered little to show that they believed that a positive result was possible. Spain coach Vicente del Bosque will be happy with his side’s performance, although he may have some words about the fact that it could have been undermined late on.
The contest in Reciife’s Arena Pernambuco began with quite extraordinary domination by Spain. Indeed, it is more than just a cliché to say that Uruguay hardly had a kick in the opening 15 minutes. Del Bosque’s men, at times guilty in the past of sterile possession, were also playing with real purpose and at a welcome tempo.
Jordi Alba was, as ever, a particular threat as he continued to find space pushing forward down the left. It was the Barcelona full-back that created the game’s first chance with a wonderfully teasing cross that both Cesc Fabregas and Soldado just failed to get on the end of. Alba was also involved as his side came inches away from the opening goal 10 minutes in. This time he played a ball inside that Andres Iniesta cleverly stepped over for Fabregas, whose precise low shot was unfortunate to come back off the inside of the post.
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There was a heavy sense of inevitability when Spain did open the scoring after 20 minutes. There was something unexpected by the manner of the strike, however. A corner from the left was only half-cleared by Uruguay and it fell to Pedro on the edge of the box, who unleashed a well-struck half-volley that may have been just heading wide before getting a pivotal deflection off the outstretched leg of Lugano to take it past Fernando Muslera.
The second would not be long in coming. Yet, when it did arrive 12 minutes later it came when Uruguay were enjoying their best spell of the period, although that is not saying a great deal. This time the strike was a thing of real beauty with Fabregas playing a delightfully clever reverse pass to find Soldado just onside and the Valencia striker finished with aplomb high into the net.
Spain had a chance to make it 3-0 before the break too when Gerard Pique’s volley from Xavi’s corner was, fortunately for Uruguay, straight at Muslera who made the block. The winners of the Copa America two years ago survived that opening but, as well as Spain played, they were compliant in their downfall. Coach Oscar Washington Tabarez was forced to change systems midway through the opening half and Uruguay also switched at times from dropping deep to pushing up. Neither tactics or approaches came close to thwarting Spain.
Despite being completely outplayed, Uruguay did actually have two very presentable chances in the first half. Both, unsurprisingly, came from set pieces, as deliveries Luis Suarez first saw Edinson Cavani unable to get good enough contact on a header before Lugano failed to control the ball in front of goal.
For almost the entire second half, Spain with complete comfort against a feeble Uruguay. But, perhaps expectedly, they also lacked the thrust of their superb first-half showing in the second.
There were only a couple of serious threats for Spain to add to their lead. One came courtesy of some impressive close-control on the edge of the box from Iniesta, but his low shot that went just wide wasn’t quite up to the standard of what came before. The Barcelona midfielder was also involved later on when his shot was blocked before Pedro’s disappointing follow-up effort went wide.
The contest appeared to be heading toward an inevitable and uneventful conclusion until Suarez popped up with a moment of magic in the 88th minute. His set-pieces had been Uruguay’s best hope in the first half and this time he didn’t need any assistance from his teammates as he fired a curling free-kick over the wall and past the previously redundant Iker Casillas from 25 yards.
There was to be no further drama, however, as Spain saw out the remaining minutes to go top of a Group B that also features Nigeria and Tahiti.