Estadio Castelão

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  • Jordi Alba 3'
  • Fernando Torres 62'
  • Jordi Alba 88'

Nigeria v Spain: Preview

John Brewin

The final matchday of the group stages sees a double-header of Nigeria v Spain and Uruguay v Tahiti. The Spanish are all-but through to the semi-finals, and looks set to lie in wait for Group A's runners-up.

Forteleza's Castelao stadium hosts a game that is far more important to the Nigerians than it is to the Spanish but do not expect Spain to let up. There are places to be played for.

What's at stake?

Nigeria can still qualify. Goal difference can be their friend. Believe it or not, Tahiti can still qualify on goal difference too, though they would have to beat Uruguay by ten clear goals and hope that Spain dish out a caning to Nigeria. Having said that, Sepp Blatter is more likely to play naked kabbadi with Michel Platini in the centre circle at Gigg Lane than Tahiti staying in Forteleza for the semis. The aim for Nigeria, and it is the toughest ask in world football, is to beat the Spanish, and hope that Uruguay do not win by a greater margin than they did against the minnows.

Spain are practically through, and with minimum fuss too. However, the steely professionalism shown against the Tahitians will be expected to continue. Vicente Del Bosque is no man to let his guard down. With Italy or Brazil awaiting in Belo Horizonte, there may be some rotation from him, but then again, he already did that against Tahiti. A Premier League-dominated XI punished Tahiti by the widest margin ever in a FIFA finals competition. Oddly, Fernando Torres and David Villa, four- and three-goal 'heroes' against the French Polynesians might not have done enough to guarantee selection in this match or the semi.

Style and tactics

Stephen Keshi is a coach who employed width to win the 2013 African Nations Cup. In a game like this, the wings are likely to be clipped, as those out wide cannot be expected to see much of the ball when Spain are dominating possession. It is in Nigeria's nature to be attacking, but their best work will be needed in defence. The type of defending that let in Uruguay's Diego Forlan to score from the left-hand flank must be avoided. John Obi Mikel's goal in that game reflected a far less rigid role than that he plays for Chelsea.

Even in the midst of a 10-0 win, there were grounds for unhappiness in the Spanish ranks. They went in at half-time leading 4-0, but they had played poorly, and their possession percentage was well below the expected 90%. Credit here to Tahiti, and perhaps acknowledgement of the curious difficulty of facing a team of such a differing standard, but very little could be gleaned from that performance. Xavi and Andres Iniesta may continue to be rested here, but will be back for the semi-finals.

Players to watch

John Obi Mikel has never scored a Premier League goal for Chelsea, but it is forgotten he was signed back in 2006 as an all-action midfielder who presented a goal threat. Against Uruguay, the centre-circle specialist became a Nigerian Steven Gerrard and scored a well-taken goal too. A shop window to a different Mikel? Perhaps. Celtic's Efe Ambrose might be lucky to be in Keshi's selection as his defending has reminded of his absent-minded performance against Juventus. Brown Ideye, erratic against Uruguay, is likely to lead the line in the absence of Nnamdi Oduamadi.

Perhaps Vicente Del Bosque will mix and match his first-choice XI and that which played against Tahiti. It was very difficult to draw conclusions from the cake walk in Rio De Janeiro. Despite Villa and Torres' goal glut, perhaps Roberto Soldado will play. One goal against Uruguay is probably worth three or so against Tahiti. In the wake of the news about Carles Puyol's potentially career-ending knee problem, one area to work on is central defence. The partnership of Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique is expected to return, but perhaps better than Raul Albiol is needed in reserve.

What will happen?

Spain might actually find it easier than against Tahiti. They might not be booed as often either. The passing metronome will resume, especially if Xavi returns, and then the Nigerians will be frustrated to the point of distraction. That might lead to some heavy challenges being put in. Nigeria's best hope of success is reducing the game to a physical challenge, though the Spanish are hardly slouches in that regard.

Who'll win?

Spain, with some ease. Apologies, Nigeria, but you are going home.

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