Spain present Nigeria with mission improbable
Buoyed by their record-breaking 10-0 rout of Tahiti at the Confederations Cup, Spain approach Sunday's final Group B fixture against Nigeria needing just a point to secure a place in the semi-finals.
Thursday's thrashing of the Pacific islanders made Spain the first team to win a game by a 10-goal margin at the finals of a FIFA tournament, and only the second to score 10 after Hungary's 10-1 thrashing of El Salvador at the 1982 World Cup.
Fernando Torres scored four goals, and David Villa three, but perhaps the most pleasing aspect for coach Vicente del Bosque was the fact he was able to rest almost his entire first-choice starting XI.
Of the team that began the opening 2-1 win over Uruguay, only centre-back Sergio Ramos kept his place, and the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas could all return against Nigeria.
Del Bosque's shrewd squad management was a key feature of Spain's successes at the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, and midfielder David Silva says rotation is something the players fully accept.
'We're always ready to step up when we get the chance,' said the Manchester City midfielder, who scored twice in the Tahiti romp.
Spain's strong start to the tournament means they go into Sunday's match at Fortaleza's Estadio Castelao within touching distance of the last four.
Although they require a point to make sure of a semi-final place, they would need to lose to Nigeria by at least four goals to stand any chance of being overhauled.
The situation is rather more taxing for Stephen Keshi's Nigeria, who were beaten 2-1 by Uruguay in Salvador on Thursday and enter Sunday's game level on points with the South American champions.
If Uruguay, as expected, record a handsome win over Tahiti, Nigeria will only be able to reach the last four with a victory over the world and European champions, but coach Keshi says he has not given up hope.
'Everything is achievable,' he said.
'It depends how much desire you have in you, how much you want it, and how much luck you've got on your side. I can't question the boys' commitment or loyalty.'
Keshi's plans for the game have been complicated by an injury to AC Milan forward Nnamdi Oduamadi, scorer of a hat-trick in the 6-1 win over Tahiti, who had to come off against Uruguay with an apparent ankle injury.
Del Bosque is expected to recall his leading lights, but Torres and Villa will each hope they have done enough to be selected ahead of Valencia striker Roberto Soldado.
The two sides have met before just once, in a group game at the 1998 World Cup in France, when Nigeria, then Olympic champions, claimed a 3-2 win that sowed the seeds of the Spaniards' group-phase elimination.
It remains the only time Spain have lost to African opposition, but the balance of power in international football has tilted sharply since then.
While Nigeria saw an 18-game unbeaten run come to an end against Uruguay, Spain have not lost at a tournament since a shock defeat by Switzerland in the opening game of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.