World champions Spain got their Confederations Cup campaign off to a winning start on Sunday with a 2-1 win over South American champions Uruguay in the northern Brazilian city of Recife.
Spain dominated throughout, but after Pedro Rodriguez’s deflected opener they had cause to be grateful for Roberto Soldado’s 32nd-minute clincher as Luis Suarez netted a late free-kick for Uruguay.
Although the South Americans came closer to pinching a point than they deserved, Spain coach Vicente del Bosque was exultant afterwards as his side laid the foundations for reaching the last four from a group also containing Nigeria and minnows Tahiti.
“These are three magnificent points which stand us in great stead when it comes to reaching the semi-finals,” Del Bosque said.
“It was a great match played out in conditions which sapped the players’ strength,” he added, referring to the warm, humid weather. “We dominated almost the whole match, but the margin was a slim one in the event. At 2-0 we thought we had it won already and we stepped off the gas a little.”
Uruguay counterpart Oscar Tabarez said: “Spain were superior and they deserved to win — we lacked a bit of discipline. In the second half it was a little more balanced as we dug deep to play for our pride.”
Cesc Fabregas came within the width of a post of giving Spain the lead in the 10th minute with a low strike, before the favorites made the breakthrough after just 20 minutes — Lady Luck smiling on them as Diego Lugano deflected home Pedro’s shot to bamboozle goalkeeper Fernando Muslera.
As is their habit, Spain gave Uruguay almost no chance to touch the ball in the opening quarter and Xavi almost made it two when he sent a free-kick whizzing just off target after 26 minutes.
Without the ball, Uruguay grew frustrated and resorted to some strong-arm tactics as Edinson Cavani earned a booking for clattering into Sergio Ramos as they challenged for a header. Ramos responded by shoving Gaston Ramirez, before Uruguay’s Cristian Rodriguez caught Jordi Alba with his elbow.
Suarez, in the news for intimating he would be partial to a move from Liverpool to Real Madrid, tried to rally the Celeste, who qualified for the event by winning the 2011 Copa America in Argentina, finding Cavani with a free-kick, but the latter’s header was too close to Iker Casillas.
Del Bosque elected to keep faith with his veteran goalkeeper, despite Casillas missing a chunk of the second half of the season with a hand injury — once he had recovered then-Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho left him on the bench.
After 32 minutes it was 2-0 courtesy of beautiful vision from Fabregas, who shimmied away from two defenders, then played in Soldado, who took one touch before drilling the ball into the roof of the net.
Uruguay made a change at the break with Ramirez giving way to Alvaro Gonzalez, but Spain were still on fire as Xavi and Iniesta interlinked brilliantly, before Xavi’s flick fed Pedro and his cross just eluded the diving Soldado.
Pedro then mishit an effort wide after a neat Fabregas through ball sent Alba into space.
With 20 minutes left, Uruguay sent on veteran striker Diego Forlan for Diego Perez.
That sparked a revival of sorts for the South Americans and Suarez drove home a curling free-kick with two minutes remaining to give the scoreline a more respectable look and also join Forlan as his country’s joint all-time highest scorer on 33 goals.
Spain came to the event having already become the only team in history to win three major events on the bounce — the 2010 World Cup sandwiched by Euro 2008 and Euro 2012.
A win in this dress rehearsal for next year’s World Cup finals in Brazil would see Spain join Argentina and France as the only countries to win the trio of World Cup, the Olympics and the Confederations Cup.