Nigeria’s qualification for the second round of the 2014 Fifa World Cup finally broke the 16-year wait for the Super Eagles to sail into the knockout rounds of football’s showpiece event.
The Super Eagles were also able to win a game for the first time since Victor Ikpeba’s goal against Bulgaria at France 1998 gave Nigeria a 1-0 win. Add to that the stunning 3-2 win over Spain that propelled Nigeria into the round of 16, even though a 4-1 drubbing by Denmark brought the euphoria back to earth.
Drawn alongside South American giants Argentina, debutants Bosnia-Herzegovina and Asian powerhouse Iran in Group F of the Brazil 2014 World Cup, the Super Eagles were able to walk a thin thread and qualify for the second round.
Supersport.com takes a look at how the Super Eagles fared in Group F, the highs, the lows and those that impressed as the team will seek to do another number on ‘Les Bleus’ of France when they meet on 30 June in the round of 16 clash at the Estadio Nacional de Brasilia.
Huffed and puffed:
The Super Eagles went into their first group game against Team Melli of Iran full with confidence, aiming to nick a first World Cup win in 16 years, but they did not reckon with the Persians putting up such resistance like they did.
Iran head coach, Carlos Queiroz set his team up to absorb pressure and look to counter-attack when the opportunity arose and they did that to devastating effect putting Nigeria under pressure in different spells during the game.
Ramon Azeez started his second game for Nigeria but did little to justify his inclusion in a 4-3-3 formation put out by Nigeria head coach, Stephen Keshi.
Vincent Enyeama was solid throughout the game saving a couple of decent chances by the Iranians as Nigeria struggled to string decent passes together and needed the introduction of Peter Odemwingie and Shola Ameobi to add some bite into the attack, but it was too late.
Nigeria picked up a point and started the tournament with a draw just like they ended at the last edition in South Africa with a 2-2 draw against South Korea that effectively ended their campaign at the first group stage.
Odemwingie: the dragon slayer
The second group game saw a more impressive Nigeria line up against Bosnia-Herzegovina. Keshi brought in Odemwingie into the starting 11 after his impressive cameo in the first game and it turned out to be a masterstroke.
The Blue Dragons were quick off the mark taking the game to Nigeria and threatening through Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic, but the African champions weathered the storm and gradually asserted themselves into the game.
Enyeama was once again at his imperious best and kept Nigeria in the game for long periods as Bosnia-Herzegovina went on the offensive looking for their first three points after losing their first game 2-1 to Argentina.
Nigeria will have Odemwingie’s 29th minute goal to thank for dispatching a hard-fighting Bosnia-Herzegovina side who will feel hard done by after a first-half goal by Dzeko was disallowed after being ruled offside.
It was a controlled and effective performance for a 1-0 win for Nigeria, as Enyeama pulled off a superb save in added time to ensure Nigeria won their first World Cup game in 16 years to earn four points, two behind Argentina, who needed a last-gasp goal by captain Lionel Messi to dispatch Iran in their own game.
Down but not out
Argentina were always going to be a mountain to climb but the Super Eagles showed character by coming back from behind to tie the game twice before Marcos Rojas’ scoffed shot gave Argentina a 3-2 win.
Bosnia-Herzegovina however did Nigeria a favour by beating Iran 3-1 which guaranteed the Eagles’ passage to the next round for a date with France.
The Super Eagles were fearless in attack as Ahmed Musa, who scored a brace in the game, tormented the Albiceleste defence with his pace for one of his best games in a Nigerian shirt by a long shot.
Enyeama was arguably Nigeria’s best performer as he stood firm and made some crucial saves to deny Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero as the Eagles absorbed the Argentine pressure and hit back on the break.
Suffice to say, Messi was the difference between the two teams as his brace set up Argentina to claim maximum points to take top spot in Group F.
Nigeria group stage stats
Played 3, Won 1, Drew 1, Lost 1
Goals scored 3, Goals against 3, Goals difference 0
Group stage performance reel
Vincent Enyeama: The OSC Lille goalkeeper was Nigeria’s standout performer for the first group stage for Nigeria. Enyeama kept Nigeria in contention for the second round with a string of important saves in all the games which has proved critical to reaching the knockout stage.
His point blank save from Reza Ghoochannejhad’s header in the first game and a last minute save off Dzeko’s shot in the game against Bosnia-Herzegovina will surely make the highlight reel
John Obi Mikel: The talented Chelsea midfielder, one of Nigeria’s most experienced players just did not come to the party. Tipped to be one of Nigeria’s top performers in Brazil, he has not exactly lived up to the billing.
He has been slow in transition thereby killing whatever momentum the Eagles built, lost possession quite often and did little to cover up for some of the midfielders.
The game against France will be another avenue for him to redeem himself and show the form he displayed during last year’s Confederations Cup where he scored a beauty against Uruguay.
Nigeria only scored three goals in the group stage, an average of a goal every game, but Ahmed Musa’s first goal against Argentina takes the top spot.
A peach of a goal, the CSKA Moscow man collected a pass from the Nigerian midfield area. Facing two Argentine defenders bearing down on him, he cut back to create space for himself on his favourite right foot before unleashing a curler into the bottom left hand corner of Sergio Romero’s goal.
The speed and finesse of the goal coupled with the exquisite finishing makes it one of the standout goals of the tournament.
Michael Babatunde: Many Nigerians were not familiar with the diminutive midfielder prior to the World Cup but the Volyn man was part of the team to last year’s Confederations Cup, though he made just cameo appearances.
His pace and trickery have been a fresh breathe of air and his ability to drop back and help out in defence has endeared him to a lot of fans. He was quite impressive against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Argentina before he got the injury that has eventually knocked him out of the tournament.
Enyeama made a lot of saves during the group stages, but none could have been more crucial than his save in added time against Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Nigeria needed the win going into the last group game against Argentina, and if the game had ended in a 1-1 draw and all other results went the way they did in the last group games, then Bosnia-Herzegovina would have made the second round at Nigeria’s expense.