RECIFE, BRAZIL – Uruguay downed Nigeria 2-1 Thursday night in Salvador to keep their Confederations Cup hopes alive. Diego Lugano and Diego Forlan scored the goals in a tepid performance from the South American champs that was nonetheless enough to get by a young Nigerian side hampered by a callow defense.
The result means that Group B is alive until the final day. Nigeria will face Spain in a must-win for the African champs on Sunday in Fortaleza, while Uruguay plays Tahiti in Recife. Goal difference in that game may prove to be a factor. Tahiti is all but eliminated after their 10-0 loss to Spain at Rio de Janeiro's crown jewel Maracana Stadium.
The events on the field were again overshadowed by the mushrooming protests that have rocked Brazil these past weeks. Police fired tear gas at protestors outside Thursday's game in Salvador, setting an ugly tone for the game. There were clashes, fires, flares and more tear gas at the Congressional Building in Brasilia. There were running clashes with police in several other cities including Rio and Vitoria. Here in Recife, this seaside community's downtown was swamped for the first time as tens of thousands took to the streets.
Ex-PSG defender Diego Lugano scored Uruguay's first goal vs. Nigeria (Photo: Jorge Silva/Getty Images).
All in all, the protests swelled to encompass 80 cities across the nation as this movement - for that is what it truly is - continued to dominate the news in this nation. Military reinforcements were called out to every major city save Recife, and the movement's organizers have planned an aggressive schedule of demonstrations and marches in the days and weeks to come.
On the field, Forlan celebrated his 100th cap for Uruguay in high style, setting up one goal and scoring the winner in a solo performance that was left unmatched by the rest of his team. Edinson Cavani had another invisible night while Luis Suarez was yanked by Oscar Washington Tabarez after a largely ineffective game. Forlan, however, had enough class to power his side through a Nigerian team that had pace and strength - but not enough discipline or quality when it mattered.
"(Forlan) is a top striker with the way he uses both feet and the way he handles the ball," Tabarez said after the match. "He showcased that talent tonight."
Forlan opened matters when he drove the ball through Cavani's legs to a waiting Lugano at the far post. Keeper Vincent Enyeama simply couldn't stop the shot from such close range.
Spain's Javi Martinez receives a necklace from Tahiti's Edson Lemaire prior to their match (Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images).
But Nigeria kept pressing and finally got their reward from an unlikely source: John Obi Mikel, who delivered a classy finish past Fernando Muslera off Brown Ideye's assist. Lugano was at fault on the goal, looking his age as he failed to close down the Chelsea defensive midfielder.
The game would slow noticeably in the second half as both teams struggled with the heat and mire, and it was left to Forlan to deliver the special moment. On a clean counter-attack, Suarez slotted the ball center to Cavani, who set up Forlan wide-left. Forlan had time to set his shot and struck it, left-footed, to the near post, baffling Enyeama.
Nigeria kept their feet on the pedal, but without Nnamdi Oduamadi - lost to a first half injury off an innocuous-looking tackle - they struggled to get the ball on frame. Muslera nearly helped them get back with a shaky and incomplete performance in the net, but in the end, Uruguay got the result they needed.
"Since the draw we knew that this was the huge match to play," Tabarez added. "We have taken a huge step toward the semifinals but we're not there yet."
In the day's early match, Spain put ten unanswered goals past Tahiti in Rio de Janeiro; Fernando Torres netted four; David Villa recorded a hat trick; David Silva got two; and Juan Mata scored a solo goal against the tournament darlings. Torres also missed a late penalty, sending his shot off the bar.
As one would expect, the game, between the reigning World Cup and European champions - and a group of semi-professional players - was not competitive. Tahiti's manager, Eddy Etaeta, had set a low goal for Thursday's game: he told the press that getting to halftime scoreless would have been a real achievement, and he was right. Unfortunately, it only took five minutes for Torres to score, running a one-two with Mata to beat Mikael Roche at the post.
No matter what the game is 10-0, we're making history will improve our football and one day we will #CatchTheBull
-- Tahiti Football (@TahitiFootball) June 20, 2013 But Tahiti managed to keep the game close for half an hour, before Silva, Torres and Villa racked up three quick goals to blow the match out. Spain, showing class, did not celebrate any of their goals; Tahiti, showing the desire and pluck that has won hearts worldwide, continued to attack what is arguably the best team on the planet. They paid, dearly - but the fans applauded them all game long despite what the scoreboard said.
"They would have loved to have scored one single goal," Etaeta said. "It didn't happen, there's something missing really. They're a bit disappointed. We lost 10-0 but we won the hearts of the Brazilian public."
On Friday, the Confederations Cup takes another pause before group play wraps up this weekend. The next set of games take place Saturday as the hosts play Italy in Salvador for top of the group, while Japan and Mexico play a dead rubber in Belo Horizonte.