Nigeria on cusp of last 16, but could still falter

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Nigeria returned to the World Cup winning trail by beating Bosnia on Saturday but a tally of four points might still not be enough to see the African champions through to the knockout stage.

The Nigerians hung on precariously for a 1-0 Group F triumph in Cuiaba as controversial refereeing decisions knocked Bosnia out of the tournament.

For Nigeria, it was a first victory at the finals since 1998, ending a winless streak of nine matches. But there is still little conviction about their potential in Brazil, even if unbeaten after their first two outings.

While they are on the cusp of qualification for the last 16, the Super Eagles can still be overhauled by Iran, who showed unexpected attacking potential before being beaten in a heart-breaking finish by Argentina on Saturday.

Iran have a single point and must beat Bosnia in Salvador on Wednesday to catch up to Nigeria’s tally and look to shade the Africans on goal difference.

Nigeria can avoid that possibility by not losing to Argentina in Porto Alegre at the same time – a task that will certainly be difficult.

Nigeria looked laboured and devoid of ideas as they failed to break through a tough Iranian defence in their opening game in Curitiba, which ended goalless.

It led to former captain Austin ‘Jay-Jay’ Okocha to criticise coach Stephen Keshi in a BBC interview.

“Keshi did not do enough work on the team. The tactical play was so bad, I hold Keshi responsible for this,” he said.

There was more spark and initiative about Nigeria’s endeavours against Bosnia but only in patches. And their defensive frailties were exposed on several occasions with Eden Dzeko desperately unlucky not to find the net.

Against Argentina, Nigeria are unlikely to take any special precautions, relying instead on their attacking instinct and physical strength.

It will leave them vulnerable to the wiles of Lionel Messi and the possibility of opening the door for Iran to sneak a place ahead of them in the second round.

Not that Keshi is in any doubt: “I never thought that we wouldn’t make the round of 16. I have the players,” he insisted after Saturday’s victory.

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