Uruguay have one foot in the Confederations Cup knockout stage after beating Nigeria, 2-1, Thursday night in Salvador, Brazil.
This was a matchup of what had been two underwhelming sides in their first matches. Nigeria looked sloppy against an overmatched Tahiti, and Uruguay offered little to stop Spain. Both were looking to get a critical win, especially given each side's next respective opponent.
It was Uruguay who struck first.
In the 19th minute, Diego Forlan got on the left flank and delivered a low cross. Edinson Cavani looked to attempt a backheel but whiffed. The pass instead landed at the feet of Diego Lugano, who completely scuffed the shot attempt, but it went into the goal anyway. You don't get points for creativity, so that goal counts all the same.
It was very poor defending from Nigeria, as they didn't clear the corner kick and failed to properly mark either Cavani or Lugano.
John Obi Mikel leveled the scoring in the 37th minute. It was a nice piece of dribbling after Mikel received the pass from Brown Ideye. He looked to be taking a shot with his right foot but put it onto his left and fired it into the back of the net.
Football writer Iain Macintosh is not convinced this is the same Mikel that fans have seen before.
Who is that and what has he done with the real John Obi Mikel?— Iain Macintosh (@iainmacintosh) June 20, 2013
Zonal Marking's Michael Cox also pointed out that the midfielder is utilized much differently for Nigeria.
Mikel is a completely different player for Nigeria— Michael Cox (@Zonal_Marking) June 20, 2013
After the goal, Uruguay started to lose their hold of the match. They looked shaky at the back at times and didn't create much going forward. It was the shell they crawled into against Spain as well. Halftime couldn't come early enough for the Uruguayans. Luckily, they only had to look at a 1-1 draw rather than a losing deficit.
Uruguay went back ahead courtesy of Forlan. He's long been the engine for Uruguay, but he can't do it every time out at 34 anymore. He is, however, still capable of scoring the occasional wondergoal.
On his 100th cap for Uruguay, Forlan was running on goal down the left. You would think that any near-post effort would be knocked away. Instead, Forlan hit it so high and hard that Vincent Enyeama had no chance.
Italian football journalist Tancredi Palmeri was especially impressed with Cavani's assist.
I don't know if it's better the Forlan's shot or the Cavani assist, which is very very difficult to give so perfectly— Tancredi Palmeri (@tancredipalmeri) June 20, 2013
The goal came against the run of play as Nigeria continued to dominate much of the match. With the goal, though, Uruguay began to get more comfortable.
They got multiple chances on goal, with Cavani proving surprisingly inept at finishing. He had at least two chances in which he should have scored, only to make a mess of the situation.
Men in Blazers tried to relate the performance to something fans may have seen before.
Cavani is having what is known in the trade as a Gervinho— Men in Blazers (@MenInBlazers) June 20, 2013
All in all, this was probably a fair result. Nigeria looked the better team for stretches, but the majority of the game was controlled by Uruguay. Neither team looked very good, though. Both sides came in with some issues, and this match wasn't the kind of response the respective managers were looking for.
John Obi Mikel, Nigeria: B+
John Obi Mikel was a best in this match for about the first 60 or so minutes. Aside from his goal, he was flying around the pitch all night. Often just used as a defensive midfielder for Chelsea, the reins were taken off Mikel against Uruguay.
He was played in a more advanced role and flourished. Mikel had license to go forward and was able to get his teammates involved. When the match dragged on, he looked like he was spent.
Diego Forlan, Uruguay: B+
Part of Uruguay's problems since winning the 2011 Copa America is that they can't replicate the impact of Diego Forlan's former self. He's not the player he was three or four years ago, and Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez haven't been able to get firing together.
This match was proof, though, that Forlan can still be a very valuable contributor for Uruguay. He's not completely done.
Edinson Cavani, Uruguay: C
Edinson Cavani has been great for Napoli. When it comes to carrying that form over to Uruguay, Cavani has had some problems. You'd think that a front line that included Cavani and Luis Suarez would be able to score goals for fun.
Suarez has generally been very good for his country, but the same can't be said for Cavani. This is a world-class striker. You never would have guessed that after watching this match.
|Elderson Uwa Echiejile||C+|
|John Ogu (off '66) ||B-
|John Obi Mikel ||B+|
|Nnamdi Oduamadi (off '45) ||C-|
|Brown Ideye (off '73) ||B|
|Sunday Mbah ||C+
|Fernando Muslera ||B|
|Diego Godin ||B|
|Diego Lugano ||B|
|Martin Caceres ||B-|
|Maxi Pereira ||C+|
Arevalo Rios ||B-
|Alvaro Gonzalez ||C+|
|Cristian Rodriguez (off '88) ||B-|
|Diego Forlan ||B+|
Edinson Cavani ||C|
|Luis Suarez (off '82) ||C+
|Sebastian Coates ||INC
Both teams will go level on points into their last games of the group stage. Uruguay look to be in the driver's seat as they face Tahiti. Nigeria, on the other hand, get Spain. It looks like it will be Uruguay advancing through to the semifinal.