Recife / Rio de Janeiro: The scoreline may suggest otherwise, but Spain cruised to an easy 2-1 victory over Uruguay in their Confederations Cup opener, in Recife, on Sunday, winning with first-half goals by Pedro and Roberto Soldado.
At the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Mario Balotelli scored the winner and Andrea Pirlo, capping a majestic 100th international appearance by scoring with a 30-metre free-kick, provided the inspiration as Italy beat Mexico 2-1 in their opening match.
Spain had a little luck with the first goal, which may have been heading wide when it took a huge deflection off Uruguay defender Diego Lugano to beat goalkeeper Fernando Muslera. The second one was a perfect finish by Soldado after a cute reverse pass from Cesc Fabregas.
Luis Suarez scored a consolation goal with a delicately curling free kick for Uruguay in the 88th minute.
Spain are trying to win the only major trophy they lack to go with a 2010 World Cup and two consecutive European championships.
Uruguay barely touched the ball in the first 15 minutes as Spain linked dozens of touches together, eventually setting up Pedro’s goal in the 20th. He scored from just outside the area as Lugano lunged trying to stop the shot – and pushed it into the goal, instead.
Spain clearly outclassed Uruguay with their usual domination of possession. It reached 77 per cent in the first half and finished at 71 for the match.
However, the second half was more physical with the pro-Uruguay crowd often jeering Spain’s long spells of possession. Only after Suarez’s late free-kick did the game seem in doubt.
In Rio, Andrea Pirlo’s goal was entirely worthy of the hallowed Maracana, which provided the perfect stage as he became the fifth Italian to reach a century of full internationals.
The 34-year-old brought the fickle and notoriously difficult-to-please Maracana crowd to its feet as he curled the ball over the wall and into the top corner in the 27th minute from distance.
The crowd chanted Pirlo’s name before and after the goal, the rarest honour for a foreign player on a stage previously graced by the likes of Garrincha, Pele, Zico and Romario.
“I don’t have words to describe Pirlo, he’s an example to everyone,” Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said.
Balotelli’s goal was more about power as he latched on to Emanuele Giaccherini’s flicked pass, barged past defender Francisco Rodriguez and fired the ball past Jose Corona with 12 minutes to go.
Javier Hernandez had replied for Mexico with a penalty seven minutes after Pirlo’s masterpiece.
Balotelli, whose notorious temper had been bubbling under the surface for most of the second half, took his shirt off in celebration, earning a yellow card and a reprimand from his coach.
“He wanted to take his shirt off and show his muscles, but all the yellow cards count,” said Prandelli, who has previously suspended Balotelli for indiscipline with former club Manchester City.
“But he played well and didn’t let anyone get to him. He was attentive for the whole game and has shown strength of character.”
Balotelli said he did not realise that he was not allowed to take off his shirt.
“I didn’t know the rules, I won’t do it again,” he said.
The match was again played against the backdrop of teargas and rubber bullets as riot police confronted protesters outside the Maracana.
A similar demonstration had marred Saturday’s opening match between hosts Brazil and Japan in Brasilia. The protests are against the amount of public money being spent on staging the event and next year’s World Cup.