Iran and Nigeria made a wreck of the World Cup goal galore on Monday, ending an end-to-end low tempo encounter at the Arena da Baixada in a stalemate.
The 20th edition of the Fifa tournament, had provided 41 breathtaking goals prior to the late evening kick-off, with a goal ratio of 2.5 per match. But expectations for the clash between the Asian giants and three-time African champions was on the low, with pundits suspect of both nations’ track record.
And it justified its billing after 90 minutes; the first draw of the World Cup in the wake of a very, very poor quality game on the relatively high altitude city of Curitiba. The opposing pair continue their run of winless cup games since France 98. An affair that produced a desirable result for fourth-timers, Iran, but not their reigning African champions opponents.
The Super Eagles, notwithstanding the presence of some sharp attackers like, Victor Moses, Emmanuel Emenike, Ahmed Musa up front failed to break down the purposeful defence of Team Melli in the final third, while bossing the game from coast to coast all through.
Credit must be given to coach Carlos Queiros’ side. The former Manchester United assistant coach have succeeded in building a team with discipline and high organisation, willing to fight for every ball and, even press forward with a rather subdued elegance.
Coach Stephen Keshi surprised many with his starting line-up, after agreeing Nigeria needed a jump start in their Group F journey. One would have expected much-diminutive figures like Osaze Odemwingie and Shola Ameobi- both second-half substitutes- to get the team going right from the blast of the whistle, but lo! ‘The Big Boss’ opted for some quick, but expressionless feet.
On-loan Liverpool winger, Victor Moses, for much of the first-half, was a thorn in the Iranian defence but had to give way in the second period and CSKA Moscow forward Musa- though had the whole of the game to start making huge impressions on the biggest stage in world football, struggled to come up with right decisions in the opponents’ box.
Emmanuel Emenike, whom I had never known to be selfish, is yet to find his goal-scoring knack since helping Fenerbahce to the Turkish title in May. The overall choices made by the Nigerian attackers were poor where it mattered most, similar to a ‘ticki tacka’ without a bite.
John Obi Mikel had a better performance; connecting well with the players up-front, while partnering with Ogenyi Onazi and Ramon Azeez to push Queiros’ men back into their half for the duration of the match. The only one failing of the Nigerian midfield is the time it has taken them to release their strikers with a purposeful delivery since the nation clinched a fifth World Cup qualification last November.
Vincent Eyeama continues being a fortress in the Africans’s defence. A couple of dare-devil saves wouldn’t have passed unnoticed, and his command of the goal area improved Kenneth Omeruo and Juwon Oshaniwa’s game- the latter did prove to be fitting into Elderson Echiejile’s shoes gradually, but lets see how it lasts. Omeruo was a good match for Reza Ghoochannejhad and Askhan Dejagah, with little assistant from 28th minute replacement for Godfrey Obaobona, Joseph Yobo.
Last but not the least, Efe Ambrose… His former manager at Celtic, Neil Lennon, says: “He’s got what’s called a curly toe.” Ambrose defended well, but his pace has always slowed his attacking prowess. Some aimless crosses from his left wing, had me wondering; ‘to what ends’.
Up next is Bosnia-Hercegovina and Argentina. Nigeria need up their game and take more shots at goal, as these opponents have prolific strikers- I mean match winners.