FOX Soccer Exclusive
Stage set as Confed Cup nears finale
BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL
Uruguay will face Brazil in an all-South American semifinal on Wednesday in Belo Horizonte after brushing aside Tahiti 8-0 on Sunday at the Pernambuco. Abel Hernandez scored the fastest goal in the tournament’s history en route to a first-half hat trick in a game that was never in doubt.
In Fortaleza, Spain rode a pair from Jordi Alba and got insurance from Fernando Torres to topple Nigeria 3-0. They now await Italy on Thursday in an-all European semifinal at Fortaleza. It is the rematch of last year's European Championship final.
The results set up the possibility of a dream match: Brazil versus Spain in Rio de Janeiro for all the marbles on June 30 – a game many would tip as a preview of the 2014 World Cup final.
The protests that have shadowed this entire event continued Sunday, but in smaller numbers. Prior to the game in Fortaleza, a small group of marchers and police clashed when the access road to the Estadio Castelao was blocked. Protestors carried signs that called for a boycott of the World Cup and criticized the corruption that has surrounded the building of the stadiums.
Spanish defender Jordi Alba celebrates his opening goal against Nigeria (Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images).
Our match in Recife saw little action. However, the stadium is some 19 kilometers away from Recife’s city center, and a small demonstration was scheduled to take place there. It is unclear if the smaller crowds indicate that the protests are running out of steam. It’s a holiday weekend in Brazil for the festa junina, meaning many people are with their families.
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On the field, it took only one attack and two minutes for Uruguay to sink the islanders. Diego Perez hoofed the ball downfield through Tahiti’s scattershot five-man back line to earn a corner kick; Nicolas Lodeiro sent it in, Andres Scotti flicked it to the far post and Hernandez headed it home without much opposition.
From there it was off to the races. Hernandez would score three more, becoming only the second man to record a first-half hat trick in this competition in the process. The other? Torres, who did it for Spain in 2009. Luis Suarez added two late goals to replace Diego Forlan atop Uruguay's all-time scoring list, while Perez and Lodeiro collected goals of their own.
Uruguay had some tense moments to ride out. Scotti would suffer a meltdown early in the second half, seeing his penalty saved, and then getting sent off for a foul on Marama Vahirua. Tahiti suddenly looked a lot better against ten men. Unfortunately, Tehivarii Ludivon would shortly be shown the exit as well for his second card, and Lodeiro quickly scored thereafter to ease any Uruguayan doubts.
Tahiti, as has been the case all tournament, swept forward with purpose, but when they conceded possession, were unable to get back and defend. They had little control in midfield and after an hour, they simply wore out. But it is wrong to say they didn’t belong here. They won their confederation and they did try to play the right way. A few of them, like Steevy Chong Hue or Xavier Samin, might get looks from professional teams. They won the hearts of the crowd as underdogs, but more important, they were classy in defeat. Make no mistake, Tahiti were one of the brighter lights of this tournament.
In our other match, the defending World and European champions never had to worry against Nigeria as they completed a sweep of the group stage in imperious fashion.
Alba gave them a lead inside of four minutes, then put the cap on things with an 88th minute breakaway goal. Torres scored a fine header with his first touch after coming on as a substitute and only three high-quality saves from Nigerian keeper Victor Enyeama kept the final score close.
The African champions worked hard, but they huffed and puffed without showing the necessary quality in the box. When half-chances appeared, they were either wasted with an extra touch or squandered through a poor finish. Although Nigeria kicked off with a mathematical chance to advance from the group, they never looked like being able to match Spain's pedigree.
Andres Iniesta set up Alba's first goal, but it was a fine piece of individual artistry in the box which enabled the scorer to twist past two defenders before shooting home. It remained 1-0 at the interval only because Enyeama twice denied Roberto Soldado on clean breakaway chances, then saved a Sergio Ramos header on the stroke of halftime.
But when Torres flung himself to a Pedro cross to crash home a 6-yard header with his first touch of the game just after the hour, it effectively ended the match as a contest. Alba's finale came when he beat the Nigerian offside trap, went in alone from 35 yards away, rounded Enyeama then tucked the ball into the empty net.
The Cup now takes a break for two days to allow the teams to prepare for the semifinals – and it must be noted that Brazil have a big advantage should they down Uruguay: they will gain an extra day of rest. But Brazil might be wary of winning this tournament however: no Confederations Cup champion has gone on to win the World Cup.