With both Mexico and Japan losing on Wednesday, Italy and Brazil clinched the top two spots in Group A of the FIFA Confederations Cup. While each team will play one more match, there isn’t much excitement left in that portion of the field.
But in Group B, there are still plenty of possibilities. Spain and Nigeria have a comfortable lead with three points apiece, but an upset by either Tahiti or Uruguay in the coming days could significantly shake up the group.
That’s a big “if,” however.
Spain and Nigeria were tremendous in their opening matches. Nigeria crushed Tahiti 6-1, and Spain edged out Uruguay 2-1. For the group tables to change much by the end of the stage, both losing squads will have to experience a massive turnaround.
As it stands, neither Uruguay nor Tahiti is eliminated, but one bad showing on Thursday will all but sink their Confederations Cup hopes.
Let’s take a look at two players from each winless side who must step up on Thursday to ensure their respective teams have a chance of advancing past the group stage.
Xavier Samin: Tahiti
Tahiti surrendered six goals to Nigeria in its opening match of the tournament. And as scary as this thought may be, Spain has the firepower to top that number on Thursday.
For Tahiti to have even the slightest chance of upending the Spanish side, keeper Xavier Samin has to play the match of his life.
The 35-year-old will need a lot of help from Tahiti’s back line, though. Spain’s attack is devastating from wing to wing, and it’s nearly guaranteed that Samin will see more than eight shots on target in this match—which was the magic number for Nigeria to score its six goals on Monday.
Anything can happen, but it probably won’t. Tahiti is staring down the barrel of an early exit courtesy of the best international team in the competition, and it will take a monumental effort from Samin and the rest of his squad to avoid giving away three points to the Spanish side.
Edinson Cavani: Uruguay
Nigeria blasted Tahiti on Monday, but Uruguay represents a much more difficult challenge in the second match of group play.
If Nigeria is to notch three more points and a chance at advancing early in the group stage, it’ll have to keep tabs on Edinson Cavani.
Cavani has the finishing ability to cause a lot of problems for Nigeria’s back line. Paired with Luis Suarez, the 26-year-old represents the other half of an attack that can net a lot of goals in a short period of time.
But Uruguay’s attack isn’t the same when either striker isn’t in form. For Uruguay to avoid an early exit, it’ll need a strong performance from both players.
Marama Vahirua: Tahiti
Given Spain’s formidable attack, it would be a surprise to see Tahiti maintain possession for more than a quarter of this match. Tahiti doesn't have enough talent to go around.
If Tahiti is to cause any trouble at all in Spain’s final third, forward Marama Vahirua will have to be the player to cause it.
The 33-year-old set up Tahiti’s only goal against Nigeria with a terrific corner kick in the 54th minute, but he’ll need to do a lot more than that against Spain. He has to be the heart and soul of Tahiti’s attack.
Tahiti coach Eddy Etaeta put it mildly when he described the challenges facing his side against Spain, as quoted at FIFA.com:
There is reason for concern after watching Spain's performance against Uruguay. Tactically, we need to be better than we were against Nigeria. And on a physical level, we'll need to be stronger in the challenge.
Tahiti doesn’t have the talent to be superior tacticians in this match, though. It will take a team effort, but players like Vahirua have to step up in a big way.
Luis Suarez: Uruguay
Few players in the tournament are as capable on the attack as Uruguay’s Luis Suarez.
The Liverpool striker is a tremendous tactician with finishing prowess unmatched by any player in this contest. With his side’s fate hanging in the balance, Suarez has to come up big for his country.
Suarez has the talent to find the net on multiple occasions in this tilt, but he’ll also need Cavani to be in top form. As a tandem, Suarez and Cavani can do a lot of damage to the Nigerian side.
Uruguay has a real chance of upsetting Nigeria on Thursday, but that effort has to start with a coordinated attack and a front line that can finish scoring chances in the back of the net. If Nigeria fails to do so, it will be on its way to the second stage of the tournament.