Nigeria vs. Uruguay: 5 Key Battles to Watch in Confederations Cup Clash
This matchup is without doubt the crucial encounter for both these sides in the Confederations Cup group stage.
With Spain, who have already swept aside Uruguay, the clear group favorites to top the group, and Tahiti, who Nigeria have already accounted for in their opening fixture, the predicted whipping boys, this game is set to determine who finishes second and qualifies for the knock-out stages.
Nigeria arrived late at the tournament following contract disputes and are missing some of their biggest, most experienced names, such as Victor Moses, Emmanuel Emenike, Ogenyi Onazi and Kalu Uche, however, they give the impression they are a squad brimming with potential.
Coach Stephen Keshi also cleared out a number of high-profile players following the 2010 World Cup, but so far this controversial move has proved a masterstroke.
Having claimed the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year, Nigeria have already shown that this new generation of players have the potential to match their predecessors.
Uruguay, on the other hand, are struggling to deal with their own changing of the guard. The squad that took them to the quarterfinals in South Africa in 2010 and to Copa America glory in Argentina in 2011 no longer has the same aura about it.
While the likes of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani are still playing at their peaks, veterans such as Diego Lugano and Diego Forlan are not at the same level they once were.
Could this Confederations Cup force Oscar Tabarez into a clear out of his own? Much will depend on the result of this encounter against Nigeria.
Here are a handful of the key matchups.
John Obi Mikel vs. Uruguay's Midfield
They weren't the first it has happened to, nor will they be the last, but Uruguay's midfield was humiliated by their Spanish counterparts in their opening group encounter.
Whether coach Oscar Tabarez sticks with the same personnel who were so overwhelmed against Spain or opts for changes, the players in the center of the park will have to do much better against Nigeria.
Though the Africans will not be able to produce the same kind of suffocating possession-based football as the world champions, they will be aware of an opportunity to stamp their authority on a side severely lacking in confidence.
The key man in that area of the pitch for Nigeria is Chelsea's John Obi Mikel. He is the engine that makes their midfield hum.
If Uruguay can smother his influence, they will have a much better chance of taking control of the match. Should they fail to do so, however, they may find themselves chasing shadows once more.
Vincent Enyeama vs. Luis Suarez
There cannot be many football fans around the world who aren't aware of Luis Suarez's capacity to make headlines.
The controversial Liverpool forward can produce moments of both supreme brilliance and shocking ill-discipline, sometimes even in the same game.
He is also one of the wilier characters in football. His supporters would call him a clever player, while others would say some of his antics are nothing more than gamesmanship, or worse.
Whatever you want to call him, Suarez is unquestionably a handful for opponents, and experienced Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama will have to be be at his sharpest to deal with the Uruguayan's unique bag of tricks, which can range from the sublime to the sneaky.
It should be a fascinating battle within a battle.
Diego Lugano vs. Ahmed Musa
No player better represents the legendary "garra churrua," or fighting spirit, of Uruguayan football than Diego Lugano.
Though he has always been a canny defender, he has at times struggled to find consistency at the club level and his career has arguably never reached the heights that his talents warrant. At his best, Lugano appears the type of player who could anchor the defense of one of Europe's glamour sides in the latter stages of the Champions League, yet for whatever reason he has never made it that far at club level.
Whenever he pulls on the pale blue jersey of Uruguay, however, we usually witness the very best of "Tota."
Lugano has been an indomitable beast at the back for his national team since 2003, scrapping and snarling and clawing his way from one inspirational performance to the next.
In recent months, though, there have been indications that this tireless warrior's best years are behind him. Some listless showings in the World Cup Qualifiers were underlined by a less-than-impressive display against Spain.
Against a fleet-footed, skillful, nimble opponent like Ahmed Musa, or any one of Nigeria's dynamic young attacking talents for that matter, Lugano risks being exposed as too old and too slow.
Then again, write off an aging champion at your own peril.
Nnamdi Oduamadi vs. Fernando Muslera
Sure, it may have come against easy-beats Tahiti, but Nnamdi Oduamadi got off to the best possible start to his Confederations Cup campaign by nailing a hat-trick in Nigeria's opening fixture.
The AC Milan-owned striker will welcome the confidence boost that comes with hitting the back of the net early in a tournament, no matter who the opponents were, and will be looking to test out Uruguay's spritely shot-stopper Fernando Muslera as often as possible when the sides meet on Thursday.
If Oduamadi can sneak an early goal, the Galatasaray goalkeeper could be in for a busy night.
Edinson Cavani vs. Kenneth Omeruo
One of the revelations for Nigeria at the Africa Cup of Nations this year, Kenneth Omeruo will be looking to cement his place in the senior side during this tournament and further enhance his reputation as a superstar defender in the making.
The 19-year-old, who is able to play at right-back or in central defense and is owned by Chelsea but spent last season on loan at ADO Den Haag in the Eredivisie, is certainly not short on speed and power, and he will need both of those traits when it comes time to shackle Edinson Cavani.
Cavani is often utilized as a wide attacking option by Oscar Tabaraz, beginning his runs from deep and galloping infield or towards the byline from either the left or right flank. Should he decide to take on Omeruo down the left edge, the Nigerian youngster's ability to deal with a world-class attacking talent will be fascinating to watch.
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