Soccer

Bad news for rivals: Spain has a new striker

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RECIFE, Brazil (AP)

Spain has everything else, and now it seems to have a genuine striker - the one thing the World Cup champions have had trouble finding.

New No. 9 Roberto Soldado scored with a perfect finish in Spain's 2-1 victory over Uruguay in the Confederations Cup opener. The Valencia striker scored both goals in Spain's 2-0 victory over Ireland in a friendly last week, and now he's chalked up the deciding goal against Uruguay on the biggest stage of his career.

With the most powerful midfield in the world, Spain coach Vicente del Bosque has often played with a so-called ''false No. 9,'' usually an attacking midfielder. This may be history with Soldado - which means ''Soldier'' in Spanish.

''First of all, to be among the 23 to be on the team is great,'' Soldado said after Sunday's victory. ''But then to be a starter is a radical change. And then to score. Of course I'm happy.''

Soldado scored 24 goals in La Liga this season, surpassed only by the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Radamel Falcao and Alvaro Negredo.

Among the other strikers, Fernando Torres scored 23, but only eight in the Premier League this season for Chelsea, and David Villa managed only 10 with Barcelona.

Soldado said he was hoping he would get a start, saying he felt he'd been playing well and had caught Del Bosque's eye for the World Cup warm-up tournament.

''Being here is a dream,'' said Soldado, who is playing in his first major championship for Spain. ''Playing with these guys is a dream that doesn't feel real, particularly in an official match like this one.''

Spain and Uruguay are viewed as the class acts of Group B, which also includes Tahiti and Nigeria. The lopsided victory - it could have been a two- or three-goal margin of victory - leaves Spain as the clear favorite, possibly headed for an appetizing final against Brazil on June 30 in Rio de Janeiro's renovated Maracana stadium.

''We deserved to win by more,'' Del Bosque said. ''We did almost everything well. We recovered the loose balls, played a creative game but we missed a few chances, which left us a bit worried at the end.''

Spain was very comfortable leading 2-0 on first-half goals by Pedro and Soldado, until Liverpool's Luis Suarez scored with a curving free kick in the 88th.

Even with the goal, Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez acknowledged Spain was far superior.

''It's a team that imposes conditions on you,'' Tabarez said. ''It's playing in this tournament to win the one title it lacks, which makes me think they are very motivated for the Confederations Cup.''

The two-time defending European champions had 77 percent of the possession in the first half, and 71 in the match - and that tells plenty. It was the kind of game Spain captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas needed in his first competitive match in almost five months. He was dropped in December by then-Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho, broke his left hand on Jan. 23 and was kept on the bench even after the hand healed after an argument with Mourinho.

''Without a match in almost five months and, although I have played 145 games for Spain, I had the feeling of it being my debut,'' said Casillas, who had no chance on Suarez free kick. ''I felt like I did 13 years ago.''

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Follow Stephen Wade at http://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP



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