17 June 2014

Nigeria: Super Eagles Forwards Must Find Cutting Edge

Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix
Nigeria's Ahmed Musa provided striker Emmanuel Emenike with a low ball to score, but the goal was disallowed after an offside call which gave the Super Eagles cause to feel aggrieved.

A lack of potency in front of goal was always going to be the Achilles heel for Nigeria at this World Cup and so it proved in their opener against Iran on Monday.

The 0-0 draw, while not quite calamitous for their second-round chances, is a major disappointment and came despite them dominating possession and opportunities.

But they could not find a way through a stubborn, but limited Iran side and when they did get into good positions to finish, they shot wildly.

It was a weakness in the team that had been flagged prior to their arrival in Brazil and was then laid bare for all the world to see in their opener.

Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi felt his forwards were "lively", but admitted they were aimless too.

"We played very well in the first half. The forwards were very active and they had a couple of chances to score, though we couldn't put them away. We lost our shape in the second half," he told reporters after the match.

"I felt we could have won the game but we were lacking a bit of inspiration on the pitch. All credit to Iran. They stuck to their game-plan and were able to put it into practice from start to finish."

It was an indicator of the game that the Man of the Match award went to Nigerian defensive midfielder John Obi Mikel, displaying the control Nigeria had of the ball, but whose teammates could not make it count in the final third of the pitch.

Mikel believes they will likely need wins against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Argentina in their final two games, though victory against the former will give them an excellent chance of making Last 16.

"Naturally we're disappointed because we know what it means to win your opening match at the World Cup," Mikel said. "We thought we had a good chance of winning. We created some openings in the first half and I think we deserved to score. Iran kept us at bay, though, and they were well organised at the back.

"We need to raise our game if we want to reach the next round. We prepared very well for this World Cup and we can't afford to drop another point in our remaining games."

For all Nigeria's possession, arguably the best chance of the game fell to Iran forward Reza Ghoochannejhad, who saw his goal-bound header brilliantly saved by Vincent Enyeama.

Iran's coach, Carlos Queiroz, was pleased with the point, realistic as he is about the quality of the team he has at the tournament.

"It was a very difficult match for us but we showed our style and our team spirit, concentration and discipline. We managed to stop them from putting their moves together in the first half," the Mozambique-born tactician said.

"Nigeria's big names tried to make the difference after the break and to take control of the game. That's when we stepped our game up a level by doubling up a lot on their players. The fans didn't see any goals but sometimes intensity, togetherness, focus and team spirit can make for an interesting spectacle."

Next up for the Super Eagles is a meeting with Bosnia-Herzegovina in Cuiabá on Saturday where a win would likely oust their opponents from the competition and put one Nigerian foot in the second round.

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