Spain confirmed their spot at the top of Group B and a semifinal meeting with Italy at the Confederations Cup with a 3-0 victory over Nigeria in Fortaleza. While it was mathematically possible for both Spain to go out and Nigeria to go through, that was always a preposterously unlikely proposition and sure enough the predicted result in this match combined with a 8-0 win for Uruguay over Tahiti means that the South American champions will meet Brazil in the other semifinal as Nigeria head home.
While it was eventually comfortable for Spain after Fernando Torres came off the bench and scored a decisive second in between Jordi Alba’s two strikes that bookended the contest, Nigeria gave the world champions a real test for an extended period. Their willingness to match Spain’s high pressing made for entertaining fare for the opening hour. Despite the emphatic scoreline, they caused greater threat to the Spanish goal than in La Roja’s opening two game combined, although Nigeria were also open at the back and could easily have conceded more than just the three goals. But Stephen Keshi’s depleted squad can exit with plenty of positives, despite a lack of edge in both penalty areas.
From the off it was a match in which both teams looked to push up and play high up the pitch. There were openings at either end in the opening minutes and within three minutes Spain had grabbed the lead. A typically precise interchange of passing in midfield led to Andres Iniesta finding Alba on a familiar forward foray and the Barcelona full-back got the benefit of a flimsy challenge from Kenneth Omeruo to enable him to pass the ball low into the net.
To their credit, unlike Uruguay in Spain’s opening match, Nigeria continued to be positive and try and continue to take the game to their illustrious opponents. They had no little success with their strategy too. Two defensive blocks were required in quick succession to deny efforts from Joseph Akpala and the again impressive John Mikel Obi. The African champions probably should have scored too from two crosses into the box from Celtic’s Efe Ambrose, the first of which was met by a header form Akpala that went straight at Victor Valdes and before the second failed to be met by good contact by Brown Ideye.
For all Nigeria’s good work in the opening period, their defense and in particular their application of the offside trap left something to be desired. Had Spain’s finishing be more clinical the game could have been out of sight at the break. Roberto Soldado was culpable on two occasions after timing his run well to get in behind the defense but his finishing was found wanting and allowed Vincent Enyeama to twice make the save. Perhaps the best chance, though, fell the way of Cesc Fabregas. Soldado this time played provider with a precise low cross into the box from which the Barcelona midfielder looked certain to score but he made poor contact and the ball came back off the post into the grateful arms of Enyeama.
The pattern continued after the interval. Nigeria threatened when Ahmed Ahmed Musa’s lighting pace got him in down the right but his good cross was unable to be converted by either of the two Nigeria attackers. But 10 minutes later the game would be all-but put beyond them.
Torres had been on the pitch less than two minutes when his movement allowed him to find space in the box and meet Pedro’s inviting cross with a good close ranger header into the corner of the net. That appeared to take some of the stuffing out of Nigeria’s challenge as Spain looked to add to their lead.
With 15 minutes to go Keshi’s side did miss a clear chance to get back in the game when substitute Muhammad Gambo shot wide. That was the only ray of light, though, in the closing stages as Spain played out the remaining minutes in utter comfort. And Vicente del Bosque’s side took the chance to add to their tally when Alba broke clear and showed his ability on the ball to go round the goalkeeper before finishing into the empty net.