Confederations Cup 2013: Four lessons as Spain beat Nigeria
Confederations Cup 2013: Tom Wellman looks at the talking points from Spain's 3-0 victory over Nigeria on Sunday
Valdes inclusion fair but leaves Casillas short of game time
After fielding Pepe Reina against Tahiti and Iker Casillas against Uruguay, Víctor Valdes was given the chance to get some game time as the group stage drew to a close against Nigeria. While he was expected to be busier than Reina, Valdes would have been surprised at the number of saves that he had to make during a frenetic first half. The game would have been perfect for Casillas, who has played very little in 2013. A hand injury forced him out for a few months last season and he failed to reclaim his starting place behind Diego López in the Real Madrid goal, which makes the decision to play Valdes odd considering the circumstances. Casillas will expect to be named in the starting XI for the semi-final but will surely be down in match sharpness as a result of missing this game.
Is athleticism the key to beating Spain?
Spain’s last defeat in the knockout stages of a tournament came against USA in the 2009 Confederations Cup and, although they beat Nigeria on Sunday, the African champions caused them major problems. Nigeria had chances to score, and but for a decent striker, would surely have grabbed one or two goals. Despite there being four years between the two performances, we can see similarities in the way Nigeria and USA attacked Spain and thwarted their offensive play. The speed of the Nigerian wingers and the strength in the middle of the pitch allowed them to field a higher line and pin Spain back, creating a sizeable gap between midfield and the isolated Roberto Soldado. The spirited performance harked back to the courage and fearless approach of USA in 2009 and highlighted susceptible areas in Spain’s defence, which could prove useful for future opponents.
Nigeria’s lack of a decent finisher lets Spain off the hook
As mentioned previously, Nigeria could well have given Spain a scare but for a clinical finisher. The Super Eagles had their chances but it was evident that they lacked a cool, composed head when in the Spanish area. The first half was an even affair with possession surprisingly shared, and after the break Joseph Akpala and Ahemd Musa spurned golden opportunities too. Spain fashioned the better chances and were good value for their win but there was no doubting that a Nigerian goal would have given Spain more problems to contend with. It would have given the Africans something to defend and the opportunity to hit Spain with a counter-attack – and possibly even some much-needed belief. As it was, Spain scored early on and Nigeria did everything but put the ball beyond Valdes.
Loss of ‘pendulum’ Alonso could prove pivotal in Italy semi-final
The first half was a worrying eye-opener for Spain as they were faced with a resolute, high pressing Nigerian defence without a trusted supply from deeper areas. Xabi Alonso is missing from the tournament due to injury and his replacement, Sergio Busquets, failed to emulate the Madrid man’s influence. His distribution from deep was lacking and it made the usually turgid midfield of Spain look porous as they lacked their usual control. A crucial link in the Spanish midfield was gone and reflected by early possession statistics – Spain only had 54 per cent in the first half when Nigeria caused real problems. If Spain are looking for a replacement to mirror Alonso’s influence then perhaps Bayern’s Javi Martinez is deserving of a start against Italy.