SALVADOR, Brazil -- Here are three quick thoughts from Uruguay's 2-1 Confederations Cup victory over Nigeria at the Arena Fonte Nova in which the South Americans snapped their opponent's team-record 18-game unbeaten streak, all but assuring themselves a place in the semifinals.
1. Uruguay go all-in and the gamble pays off
In this matchup of brittle defenses, the three points would always be won by the team that could best make its front line click. Nigeria came into the match having maintained only one clean sheet in their past five games and Uruguay's back line favors bulk over speed.
Aware that Nigeria's front three would counterattack with pace and frenzy, Uruguayan coach Oscar Tabarez sought to nullify their advantage by going all-in on world-class strikers. Veteran forward Diego Forlan was awarded his 100th cap as he stepped in to play alongside Luis Suarez and the curiously impotent Edinson Cavani.
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The Uruguayans hoped to smother their opponents by retaining possession, exploiting space behind the Nigerian full backs and working Cavani into the game. Though the Napoli forward continued his bleak form at the national level, he did manage to play a key role in the opening goal, stepping over Forlan's intelligent cross, leaving Diego Lugano to scuff the ball awkwardly over the line from close distance.
Yet the trio often appeared out of sync, with Suarez not shy to show his frustration. With Uruguay's midfield imbalanced and overrun, the team lacked a reference point to distribute the ball to the feet of the forward line. Ultimately it was left to the trio to take matters into its own hands. In the 51st minute, Suarez broke through the midfield to feed Cavani. He laid the ball off for a steaming Forlan, who belted home the winner.
2. Nigeria miss Moses
Before kickoff, Nigeria huddled in prayer in the center of the field, facing up to their opponents only when they were ready -- a symbol that they were determined to assert their style of play on the game.
Though they started slowly, when they began to counterpunch, John Obi Mikel was at the center of every threat they conjured. The Chelsea player displayed an aggression in the green of Nigeria he has so rarely shown in the Premier League. He dragged the Super Eagles back into the game, demanding and dispensing the ball to propel his team forward. His reward came in the 37th minute, when he found space in the box, skipped around a stranded Lugano and slapped the ball home.
Yet Nigeria's front line could not match his example. With Nnamdi Oduamadi lost to a first-half injury, Brown Ideye was full of misplaced good intention. Nigeria attacked with a relentless energy, and, even though they outshot their opponents, they lacked the ability to finish, mustering 13 shots, yet only five on target. How much did the Super Eagles miss Mikel's Chelsea teammate Victor Moses, who is out with injury? With his intelligent pace in the side, the score could have been very different.
And the Most Relieved Team in Brazil tonight is
Tahiti. Had the game remained a tie, goal difference would have decided whether Nigeria or Uruguay advance. As it is, barring a miracle, Uruguay will advance to face the winner of Saturday's clash between Brazil and Italy.