Uruguay were warned. In the lead up to their opening Confederations Cup game with world champions, Xavi Hernandez said: “we are going there to try and win it.” Cesc Fabregas and Fernando Torres backed up the Barcelona midfielder’s words while Santi Cazorla declared: “the hunger is still there.”
And from the very first minute in Recife, all this was overwhelmingly evident. Spain were absolutely dominant in their Group B opener, immediately taking control of proceedings and clicking straight into their passing game. Uruguay could not compete let alone touch the ball, particularly in the first half.
Spanish sports daily, AS, claimed the following morning that La Roja’s first half performance was their best ever under Vicente del Bosque. And it may well have been.
Xavi, despite getting on in the years, played like a man possessed as he dictated play from the centre of the pitch and sprayed 68 passes around before half-time – equalling the entire Uruguayan team. Andres Iniesta was at his mesmerising best, cutting in from the left to cause all kinds of havoc with his dribbling and passing. Centred around the Barca duo, the whole Spanish side seemed on the same wavelength, all perfectly in tune with one another and all exquisitely playing to the same rhythm.
Surprisingly however, the Brazilian fans in the stands were not impressed as they started to jeer the Spaniards. Probably because, as neutrals, they had come to see a good contest – and this was no contest. This was a master class from the Spanish and a lesson for the Uruguayans and everyone else watching.
Despite the unfriendly crowd and the monsoon-like rain that began to fall, Spain were hardly bothered and it was no surprise to see them take the lead. From the opening whistle it seemed just a matter of time before they opened their account and they did so on 20 minutes through Pedro Rodriguez’ volleyed effort from outside the box which took a wicked deflection on its way into Fernando Muslera’s goal. It was the Barca man’s 11th goal for La Roja since September.
Twelve minutes later, a superbly crafted move involving Fabregas and Iniesta was finished with aplomb by Roberto Soldado, justifying his rather unexpected inclusion in the starting line-up.
Spain’s dominance did wane as the match progressed. Del Bosque attributed this to the “humidity which wore us down and made us slow” and also backed up the cliché that a 2-0 lead is a dangerous score-line. “When you are two goals up your players stop a little bit which is why we suffered in the end,” he said.
A stunning free-kick from Luis Suarez even had Uruguay believing in a most unlikely come back, but it was not nothing more than mere hope. And, to be frank, had they drawn level it would have been a grave injustice. Even Uruguay Coach Oscar Tabarez had to admit after the game, “Spain were far superior. They earned their victory in every way.”
Spain certainly did deserve all three points with this performance, backing up their pre-tournament talk of being serious about winning the Confederations Cup. But, what is perhaps most impressive more than anything else is that five years on from Vienna, two European Championships titles and a World Cup triumph later, this Spain team remain as hungry as ever. Cazorla was spot on.