FORTALEZA, Brazil (AFP) – Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi was left to rue the legacy of untimely injuries and wayward shooting after his side's Confederations Cup challenge came to an end in a 3-0 loss to Spain.
The African champions needed to win Sunday's game to stand any chance of squeezing into the semi-finals, but Spain took the honours through a pair of goals from left-back Jordi Alba and a Fernando Torres header.
Prior to the defeat, Nigeria had beaten Tahiti 6-1 before losing 2-1 to Uruguay -- a law of diminishing returns in keeping with a pre-tournament run in which they had scored only six times in six matches.
Keshi's side played attractive football at times at Fortaleza's Estadio Castelao and created a clutch of clear-cut chances, only for their forwards' composure to desert them at the crucial moment.
Brown Ideye and substitute Muhammad Gambo both spurned good opportunities in the second half, and Keshi said that Nigeria's failure to convert such chances had cost them dearly.
"There's so much anxiety in front of the goal-line when we get there," he said.
"The good thing is we create chances, but we're not finishing them. That's something we need to work on. Hopefully it's going to come quickly."
Keshi said his players had become "unprofessional" after Torres doubled Spain's lead shortly after coming on as a 60th-minute substitute, but he admitted that the injuries that have afflicted his squad were beyond his control.
Nigeria lost Victor Moses, Emmanuel Emenike and Ogenyi Onazi prior to the tournament, while Nnamdi Oduamadi was injured against Uruguay and centre-back Kenneth Omeruo had to go off with an injury against Spain.
"You look at the other teams in the tournament, and they have a complete XI of first-team players here," he said.
"I lost four, five key players in the team at the last minute. And today I lost one of my key players at centre-half, which is damaging. But it's football. You have to live with it."
Spain advance to a semi-final with Italy in the same arena on Thursday, but Keshi said he did not know if the world champions had a stronger chance of success in the tournament than Group A winners Brazil.
"I cannot say if Spain is the favourite or Brazil," he said.
"Sometimes it's not the best team that wins the tournament. You have to wait until the end of 90, 95 minutes to see who wins. Today might turn out good for Italy, and tomorrow is not."
Despite their Confederations Cup disappointment, Nigeria remain on course to return to Brazil for next year's World Cup.
The Super Eagles will move into the third round of African qualifying if they avoid defeat at home to Malawi in their next competitive fixture on September 6.