22 June 2014

Nigeria Extinguish Bosnian Dreams

Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix
Nigeria's players celebrate their victory, 16 years after last winning a World Cup encounter.

Debutants Bosnia and Herzegovina saw themselves exit the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ after two games, following a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Nigeria. Peter Odemwingie's first-half goal was enough to put the Super Eagles within a point of the Round of 16.

With Argentina having already sewn up qualification from Group F, the race was on to try to wrap up the remaining spot. Both sides were set up to play attacking football, and when Haris Mendunjanin was booked for bringing down Ahmed Musa, Peter Odemwingie - who had impressed as a substitute against Iran - fired the free-kick inches wide.

The Bosnians were looking intent on playing attractive football in pursuit of the result they needed, with their nimble-footed midfield pairing of Miralem Pjanic and Muhamed Besic combining superbly, only for the young Ferencvaros midfielder to fire over. The African champions, for their part, looked keen on making Begovic work, as the shots from distance were raining in from early on. First John Obi Mikel saw his low, zipping shot flash just wide, before the Stoke City goalkeeper had to beat away Ogenyi Onazi's effort.

Edin Dzeko thought he had put the Europeans ahead, but after latching on to Zvejzdan Misimovic's slick through-ball and slotting past Vincent Enyeama, he looked up to see a flag had denied him. It was the Nigerian veteran goalkeeper himself who was next to prevent the Manchester City man opening his World Cup account, pushing his near-post shot away for a corner.

However, after the Super Eagles had spent ten minutes on the back foot they struck against the run of play. Emmanuel Emenike's near-unstoppable momentum saw him bundle past Emir Spahic down the right flank, before he laid the ball on a plate for Odemwingie to slot past his club team-mate Begovic.

While striking on the break was proving lethal for Nigeria, it seemed just a matter of time before the World Cup debutants would find joy with feeding Dzeko. He was a constant worry for Joseph Yobo and Juwon Oshaniwa and had a great chance of the stroke of half-time, but after Pjanic's cut back, he blazed over from 12 yards.

The pattern of play continued after the break, with the eastern Europeans' passing creativity finding gaps in the Nigerians' backline, but they lacked the killer pass or clinical finish to make them count, while the west Africans broke at pace and tested Begovic from range. The goalkeeper had to be on his toes to deny Emenike from much closer in though after the Fenerbahce striker pounced on a ricochet off Odemwingie, only to see Begovic stick out a long Bosnian leg to put it behind at his near post.

Safet Susic had said he wanted to save the semi-fit Sejad Salihovic for their final game if he could, but caved to the ticking clock, bringing on the Hoffenheim midfielder and goal-scorer from the opening match Vedad Ibisevic for an influx of experience. The introduction of the latter almost paid off, but he could only flick Misimovic's corner over the bar.

With 15 minutes remaining and their shirts drenched in sweat, Zmajevi (The Dragons) were getting agitated with their World Cup future looking bleak, but a Pjanic shot from range doingtle to trouble Enyeama. Stephen Keshi's side were still out to make the result safe, and Onazi tested Begovic again with another drilled effort from before Emenike shot just wide.

When Misimovic fluffed his lines on the edge of the box with 90 minutes on the clock it looked destined not to be their night. Edin Dzeko headed straight at Enyeama moments later, before seeing his effort from six yards turned on to the post, and that save ultimately sealed their exit from the tournament.

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