When the draws for the World Cup were made in December, I had my reservations about my country paired in the same group with Argentina (yet again), Croatia and Iceland. For some reason, these folks at FIFA always find a way to pair my nation with the Argentines and we’ve always had bad sets of results against them. All I could do was to remain hopeful when it was time for the World Cup proper.
The warm up friendlies didn’t inspire any confidence with losses to England, Serbia and Czech Republic but the first game of the World Cup was really poor as the Nigerians put up a torrid show against Croatia. Luca Modric and Ivan Rakitic ran the show expectedly but losing to an own goal and a penalty didn’t inspire any confidence.
Then there was the second game against Iceland that came with a change in formation, which also changed the teams fortunes for the better. Two goals from Ahmed Musa put those Vikings to the sword and with Argentina suffering an embarrassing loss to Croatia, the stage was set for an all or nothing encounter when Nigeria locked horns with Argentina. I had a hunch that Croatia will be too much for Iceland, despite their comfortable position in the group, so the Croat manager opted to rest a host of his key players, giving the second string side a shot at a World Cup finals game.
To Nigeria, the mission was straightforward – avoid defeat from an Argentina side bereft of confidence and a date with France beckoned in the Round of 16. Not too hard a task, so we hoped.
Early on, a sensational pass from Ever Banega (I hope you’re watching Unai) set Lionel Messi through on goal and he had a lot to do, controlling the ball to perfection before slotting it past our young goalie with his right foot. Kenneth Omeruo’s defending was questionable but hey it’s Omeruo of Kasimpasa, not the Varanes or Thiago Silvas of this world. Francis Uzoho had to make himself big to deny the big game bottler, Gonzalo Higuain, and received a whack on the head for his troubles.
The wind sailed to the Super Eagles side when VAR was used to determine that Javier Mascherano scythed Leon Balogun in the box. Victor Moses stepped up and dispatched the spot kick brilliantly and the momentum was with Nigeria. Football, as we all know is a game of taking chances when you get them – that’s why many Nigerians are very disgusted and disappointed with Odion Ighalo at the moment. He had such a shocker in the opening game against Croatia that cost him his place in the second game. However, Kelechi Iheanacho’s shite fest in the first half allowed the manager, Gernot Rohr, to draft Ighalo in his stead. The China based striker had two glorious opportunities to put his name on the back pages of every sports column today but he fluffed his chances, turning himself into a petulant baby that required bis captain to calm him down.
Late on, Marcos Rojo drifted forward and latched onto a Mercedo cross to place the ball past Uzoho and take his country into the knockout round, breaking Nigerian hearts.
But that’s football for you.
To be honest, I had my reservations about the game between my country and Iceland after the opening game against Croatia but when the manager, Gernot Rohr, stated that he would change his tactics and some of his playing personnel, I garnered some hope and with Croatia demolishing Argentina the previous night, the group was thrown open.
The suspicions were correct when I saw the starting lineup with Alex Iwobi and Odion Ighalo sacrificed for a new tactical 3-5-2 setup that saw Kenneth Omeruo join the ‘Oyinbo Wall’ of William Troost-Ekong and Leon Balogun. Eagles captain, John Mikel Obi, given a withdrawn role behind Oghenekaro Etebo and Onyinye Ndidi. Victor Moses and Bryan Idowu assumed wingback roles while Kelechi Iheanacho and last World Cup two goal hero, Ahmed Musa leading the line.
The first half was all Iceland with Nigeria failing to even register an attempt on goal but the outlook changed in the second with the introduction of Tyrone Ebuehi for Bryan Idowu. The first goal of the game arrived when Moses had one of his better forays up front (has been disappointing for most of the tournament) before dinking a cross that was controlled superbly by Musa with a great first touch before blasting the ball in. I watched the match in a pub and everywhere went into ruptures.
The second goal by Musa was simply amazing, taking on a defender, shimming past the goalie before having the composure to blast the ball to the unguarded net.
There was a scare when VAR was rightly used to award a penalty to Iceland but Gyifl Sigurdsson sent his spot kick to orbit. Maybe he was aiming for an eagle or something, but it was a great result for Nigeria.
Check out the reactions from some fans watching the game in and outside the pub.