x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Confederations Cup: Superior Spain hand Uruguay 'a dignified defeat'

Oscar Tabarez, coach of the South American side, had no complaints after 2-1 loss, conceding the world champions were worthy winners, writes Gary Meenaghan from Brazil.

Spain were more organised on the pitch against Uruguay, marshalled by Andres Iniesta, second from right. Jasper Juinen / Getty Images
Spain were more organised on the pitch against Uruguay, marshalled by Andres Iniesta, second from right. Jasper Juinen / Getty Images

Spain 2 Uruguay 1

Man of the Match: Andres Iniesta

RECIFE, Brazil // Spain showed exactly why they are world and European champions as they kicked off their Confederations Cup campaign with a dominant, stylish victory against Uruguay at Arena Pernambuco.

Pedro opened the scoring after 20 minutes before Roberto Soldado added a second 12 minutes later. La Celeste striker Luis Suarez struck a wonderful free-kick late in the game, but it proved little more than a consolation as the 2010 World Cup winners took the driving seat in Group B. Nigeria face lowly Tahiti in the group's other match later today.

"This was a good match, played under conditions that demanded a lot from players," Vicente del Bosque, the Spanish coach, said. "I believe we dominated at all times, with the exception of a few minutes when we conceded a goal."

Andres Iniesta, the hero of the final in Johannesburg three years ago, was again central to a magnificent Spanish performance, pulling the strings in the midfield with all the guile and creativity of a master puppeteer. His step-over in the 10th minute almost led to the opening goal, but Cesc Fabregas's resultant strike cannoned back off the post.

Ten minutes later, Spain took the lead when Pedro latched on to a loose ball and struck a fierce drive that deflected off the outstretched leg of Diego Lugano, the Uruguay captain, and past goalkeeper Fernando Muslera.

Uruguay were struggling to show any attacking intent, their best chance of the first half coming from a well-worked free-kick that narrowly missed the head of Napoli's Edison Cavani.

"Before every game, you guess how events will unfold," Del Bosque added. "You have an image of what the game might be and it was thinkable that we might have the initiative, but we knew they had a way to hurt us and we completely nullified them. Our actions stopped them and it gave us a very good result."

In the 32nd minute, Iniesta, with his back to goal, collected the ball near the centre circle and telepathically fed it forward. With Uruguay struggling to get back, Fabregas collected a cross and edged forward before playing a clever pass to Soldado, who made no mistake from 10 yards.

The Valencia forward could have snatched his second five minutes after the break, but Pedro's cross from the right proved just out of the striker's reach. As Spain settled again into their rhythm, their opponents were left chasing shadows. Oscar Tabarez, the Uruguay coach, introduced Nicolas Lodeiro in a bid to give more organisation to his side, but Spain were able to continue passing the ball around the centre of the pitch without really probing too much. Jeers eventually grew among the 41,705-strong crowd.

Cavani and Luis Suarez cut frustrated figures in the Uruguay attack, with the latter rarely getting a sniff of the ball. Yet it was the controversial Liverpool striker who gave his country a lifeline when, in the 88th minute, he curled a magnificent free-kick past Iker Casillas from 30 yards. Ultimately, it proved too little too late and had the South Americans sneaked an equaliser it would have been undeserved.

Tabarez had no complaints.

"Spain were far superior at all times," he said. "They justified their victory at all times, particularly during the first half. We did not have the organisation or the recovery of the ball as necessary. We made changes and tried appealing to [the players'] shame and dignity. In spite of the fact the opponent continued to be superior, we saw a more logical game, while accepting our opponent brought down their own pace of the game. Our professional image is something we rescued. It was a dignified defeat."

Spain, the world's top-ranked team, face Tahiti next. The Polynesian nation are ranked 138th in Fifa's official world rankings and have only one professional player. Uruguay meet African champions Nigeria on Thursday.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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