x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Confederations Cup: Nigeria and Uruguay to battle for second spot in Group B

Both Nigeria and Uruguay know the most important match of the group phase at Confederations Cup is between them.

Before the Confederations Cup, Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi looked at the schedule and knew his team's meeting with Uruguay would be a must-win if they wanted to advance past the group stage. Peter Powell / EPA
Before the Confederations Cup, Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi looked at the schedule and knew his team's meeting with Uruguay would be a must-win if they wanted to advance past the group stage. Peter Powell / EPA

SALVADOR, Brazil // Despite contrasting results in their opening games, Uruguay and Nigeria approach Thursday's encounter between the sides knowing defeat could spell the end of their Confederations Cup ambitions.

Uruguay lost 2-1 to Spain on Sunday, before Nigeria surged to the top of Group B with a 6-1 demolition of Tahiti, but the meeting of the South American and African champions was always destined to be pivotal.

With both teams expected to lose to world champions Spain and beat Tahiti, a win at Arena Fonte Nova would leave the victors in a strong position to progress to the semi-finals.

The Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez has described the Nigeria fixture as "our key match", while the captain Diego Lugano said the game was "our final".

Diego Forlan, the striker who now plays for the Brazil club Internacional, echoed their sentiments, although a draw would leave the qualification situation in the balance ahead of Uruguay's final group game against Tahiti.

"Losing to Spain is something normal," he said. "Now we must forget that match and prepare ourselves to play against Nigeria. We knew before coming to Brazil that our most important game was against Nigeria and nothing has changed because we lost to Spain."

Nigeria's preparations for the tournament were dogged by controversy after the squad initially missed their scheduled flights to Brazil in protest at a row over bonus payments.

Stephen Keshi, the coach, said he was relieved to put the furore behind him with the victory over Tahiti, although he was critical of his forward players for not putting the game to bed more quickly.

"I wouldn't say I was annoyed, but I was worried when we did not take our chances because it gave our opponents hope," he said. "We had clear chances, 100 per cent chances, and you need to bury the goals."

Keshi hopes to have the Lazio midfielder Ogenyi Onazi available, after he missed the Tahiti game to undergo treatment on a knee injury in Nigeria.

Although Uruguay's players were made to look like statues by Spain's passing carousel during their opening match in Recife, Luis Suarez did give the South Americans' fans a moment to cherish with a fine late free kick.

The Liverpool striker is confident that his countrymen will rise to the occasion.

"Us Uruguayans are used to having it tough. For that reason, we're really not worried," he told the Fifa website, citing their qualification for the 2010 World Cup via an intercontinental play-off and their 1-0 victory away to Venezuela in a 2014 qualifier this month.

"Uruguay can go toe to toe with anybody. We're fully aware of that. We might have had a setback against Spain, but there's still a long way to go and we're going to bounce back."

Arena Fonte Nova, in the Bahian state capital Salvador, north-east Brazil, is a rebuilt 48,747-capacity stadium constructed especially for the Confederations Cup and next year's World Cup.

The old stadium, home to local club sides Bahia and Vitoria, was demolished in 2010.

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