By ANDREW DAMPF
SALVADOR, Brazil — Diego Forlan celebrated his 100th appearance for Uruguay in style, setting up one goal then scoring the winner in a 2-1 victory over Nigeria on Thursday to move his team within sight of the Confederations Cup semifinals.
Forlan’s decisive goal came in the 51st minute with a sweetly-struck left-footed drive, when he finished off a swift counterattack that involved all three of the South American champion’s forwards, starting with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani.
Malaga defender Diego Lugano put Uruguay ahead in the 19th following a cross from Forlan and Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel equalized for Nigeria in the 37th.
“(Forlan) is a top striker with the way he uses both feet and the way he handles the ball,” Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez said. “He showcased that talent tonight.”
Uruguay and Nigeria are level with three points each in Group B but Uruguay will be expected to win its next match against underdog Tahiti while Nigeria faces World Cup holder Spain.
“Since the draw we knew that this was the huge match to play,” Tabarez said. “We have taken a huge step toward the semifinals but we’re not there yet.”
Spain, which routed Tahiti 10-0 earlier Thursday, leads the group with a full six points, while Tahiti is last with none.
However, Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi wasn’t giving up yet.
“Everything is achievable,” he said. “It depends how bad you want it.”
At the Arena Fonte Nova on a warm and humid evening, the sparse crowd supported Nigeria, or rather rooted against Brazil’s southern neighbor Uruguay.
Nigeria relied on long balls while Uruguay relied on a more deliberate approach.
The 34-year-old Forlan won the Golden Ball trophy as the best player at the 2010 World Cup when Uruguay finished fourth and he rekindled some of that form in this match.
For the opening goal, Forlan crossed toward the center of the area and Edinson Cavani fooled Nigeria’s defense by letting the ball pass through his legs to the waiting Lugano, who slotted it in from close range.
However, Lugano struggled at the other end and Mikel dribbled by him to launch a powerful shot into the top of the net to draw Nigeria level.
Suarez started off the action that led to the winner by taking the ball near midfield then passed it across to Cavani who flicked it on to Forlan for an angled shot inside the area.
It was Forlan’s 34th goal for Uruguay, moving him one ahead of Suarez into the squad’s all-time lead.
Tabarez had considered removing Forlan from the lineup for this match but he played from the start as the 1 in an offensive 3-4-1-2 lineup behind Cavani and Suarez.
“We had never played with the three strikers this way,” Tabarez said. “Our intention from the outset was very clear. We played in Nigeria’s half at the start but then Nigeria turned the tables. At halftime we decided we needed to take over supremacy again. It wasn’t showy football. We had to work hard.”
Keshi cited a lapse in concentration on Forlan’s goal.
“I’m very impressed with what my boys did,” he said. “The difference was that Uruguay’s team has been together for six years vs. ours has been together for a year and a half. So I hope we can sustain this performance and add a little bit of personality.”
Nigeria opened the tournament by beating Tahiti 6-1 while Spain beat Uruguay 2-1.
In the final round of group matches Sunday, Nigeria faces Spain in Fortaleza and Uruguay meets Tahiti in Recife.
Nigeria, which nearly didn’t show up at the tournament after players threatened a strike last week over bonuses, risks going home early