Nigeria 0 Spain 3
Man of the match: Jordi Alba
FORTALEZA, Brazil // Spain coach Vicente del Bosque evoked the spirit of Total Football by claiming that Jordi Alba's brace against Nigeria at the Confederations Cup demonstrated that his players are comfortable in any position.
Needing a draw to book a semi-final date with Italy, Spain made an ideal start to Sunday's Group B fixture in Fortaleza when Alba slalomed through the Nigerian defence to give the world champions a third-minute lead.
After substitute Fernando Torres scored with a diving header shortly beyond the hour, Alba sealed a 3-0 win with another impressive strike two minutes from time.
With Nigeria caught up the pitch for a corner, the Barcelona left-back latched onto a clearance just inside the opposing half before calmly steering the ball around goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama and tapping home.
Asked to explain why Alba had twice found himself in such an advanced area, Del Bosque gave an answer that brought to mind the positional fluidity of the great Holland team that thrilled neutral observers at the 1974 Fifa World Cup in Germany.
"When a system is functioning well, whenever you have a favourable situation, Jordi Alba, for instance, can move up to an attacking position without losing the balance in the team," he said.
"We're suddenly able to score. This is the football we like: we're all defenders, we're all midfielders, we're all attackers."
Spain enjoyed 58 per cent of the possession at Estadio Castelao, which is less than they are accustomed to, but in the second half their patient circulation of the ball helped keep Nigeria at bay.
It also helped the players cope with temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius and cloying humidity.
With the mercury set to rise to similar levels when Spain and Italy lock horns at the same arena on Thursday, it is a tactic that could prove doubly advantageous again.
"It's good to strike a balance between attacking and playing slower football," Del Bosque said. "It's very hard when you play 90 minutes in those temperatures. You can't play full tilt all the time, so you have to slow down occasionally to make time with the ball."
Alba has particular reason to relish Thursday's reunion with Italy, having scored his first international goal when Spain swept to a 4-0 win over Cesare Prandelli's side in last year's Euro 2012 final in Kiev.
However, he said it would be rash to expect a similar outcome when the teams resume hostilities.
"Against a rival like Italy, you never know what's going to happen," said the 24 year old, who was named the official man of the match.
"We know they're very strong in defence and have good control of the ball. They'll definitely be very tough rivals, as they have been over the years.
"We'll just try to play our style, keep a clean sheet and score goals up front."
Spain midfielder Cesc Fabregas had to be withdrawn against Nigeria in the 54th minute after complaining of discomfort, but Del Bosque said it was purely a precautionary measure.
"I guess something happened, he felt a slight pain, and he withdrew to be on the safe side," the Spain manager said. "Now it's up to the doctors to assess what it is. It doesn't seem to be anything serious, but we're just being cautious."
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