Uruguay enters the Confederations Cup with new-found confidence, which it will need for its opening match against World Cup and two-time defending European champion Spain.
Uruguay defeated Venezuela 1-0 on Tuesday in a key South American World Cup qualifier, moving it among the leaders in the group and giving the side hope of reaching next year’s tournament in Brazil.
The South Americans open play in the eight-team Confederations Cup on Sunday against Spain in the northeastern city of Recife. But the key match will be the second one against Nigeria. The top two teams in each of the four-team groups advance to the semifinals.
“The game against Venezuela was very important to give us a lift,” top scorer Luis Suarez said Thursday. The Liverpool forward sat out Tuesday’s match after earning two yellow cards.
“It would have been difficult to come here with a defeat, which would have nearly eliminated us from qualifying for the World Cup.”
Spain is the high-profile game, but the crucial match is the second against Nigeria. Uruguay wraps up group play against lightly regarded Tahiti.
“The key game is the second,” Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez said. “Winning it will be a giant step to put us among the final four. This is not to downgrade Tahiti, but in reality this is a team with less experience.”
Suarez tried to keep the focus on football. In recent weeks he has talked about wanting to move away from Liverpool and the highly critical British press.
He has been a controversial figure in English football since being suspended for eight games in December 2011 for making racist remarks toward Manchester United defender Patrice Evra during a match.
In April, he was given one of English football’s longest suspensions for on-pitch misbehaviour — a 10-match ban for biting an opponent, Branislav Ivanovic, during Liverpool’s 2-2 draw with Chelsea.
“Obviously I have done things that I myself recognise, and I’ve asked to be pardoned,” he said. “As a player, as a professional I’d like to be valued more for the way I play on the pitch than for other things.”