There was little suspense going into the final Group B stage games at the Confederations Cup. What uncertainty there may have been was essentially killed off within the first five minutes.
Nigeria went into their game against the World Cup holders, Spain, at Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza on Sunday knowing that only a win would give them any chance at all of advancing to the semifinals - as no one in their wildest dreams saw tiny Tahiti getting a result against the South American champions, Uruguay.
The question of whether Uruguay or Nigeria would join Spain in the semifinals was cleared up extremely quickly in two acts. Act 1: Goal for Uruguay after just one minute and 19 seconds. Act 2: Goal for Spain just over a minute later.
Jordi Alba's beautifully taken goal after he danced by three defenders in the Nigeria area was by far the more important of the two, making the underdogs' task of crafting the necessary win over Spain all the more difficult. Alba's finish came after several quick Spanish passes bridged the Nigerian midfield.
The early Spanish lead gave the Nigerians a big mountain to climb but with a lot of time to try to get an equalizer, which would have given them the chance to look for a winner.
However, a first half that began so brightly, degenerated into an essentially dull affair. While Nigeria at times had a great deal of possession, this was mainly in the midfield, with the Africans only seldom able to penetrate the Spanish defense. Perhaps Nigeria's best chance came with Sunday Mba's shot from just outside the box after taking a square pass across the edge of the area. This forced a tidy save from Spanish goalkeeper Victor Valdes.
The second half was played at a similarly slow pace, with the Spanish defense seldom troubled by the Nigerian attack.
Two goals in the second frame eliminated any doubt about who would be going through from Group B.
Fernando Torres headed home in the 62nd minute to double the score to 2-0. Then two minutes from time, Jordi Alba got his second of the night, having taken off at full tilt after a free kick in his end of the park. He beat everyone else to the long ball, eventually walking it in and around goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, who conceded a third to make the final score 3-0 for Spain.
Following the match, though Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said it was a much closer game than the final score would make it seem.
"In the end we were able to control the ball and break the match, and that was favourable for us," he said. "I think both teams should have scored more goals."
Minnows to the slaughter
At the Arena Pernambuco in Recife, it seemed that Copa America champions Uruguay seemed to take a while to get their engines running against Tahiti.
While Abel Hernandez did put the South Americans on to the score board off a corner after less two minutes, it would take 22 more for Uruguay to repeat the feat. Again it was Hernandez who put Uruguay up 2-0 in the 24th minute. He would add a third on the stroke of halftime and a fourth from a penalty in the 67th minute for a booty of four goals on the night.
"I never imagined this, it was brilliant, but we need to keep it up, the important thing for the team was qualifying for the next stage," the 22-year-old Hernandez said afterwards.
Uruguay's other goals came from Luis Suarez in the 81st and 89th minutes. Diego Perez (27th) and Nicolas Lodeiro (61st) added singles to make it an 8-0 walkover for Uruguay over the minnows from the South Pacific.
The results put Uruguay, not Nigeria, through to the semis, where they will take on their fellow South Americans Brazil at Belo Horizonte on Wednesday. The second semifinal will be an all-European affair, with Spain taking on Italy at Fortaleza.