For many countries, the World Cup is a cruel mistress. On Thursday, it was the Super Eagles’ turn to have their hearts broken against the marauding Greeks, who simply would not take ‘no’ for an answer. It ended Greece two, Nigeria one.
From the very start, the nature of two opponents was clear: the Super Eagles were gliding over the surface of Bloemfontein stadium while the Greeks were marching, well organised by their long-term leader, German coach Otto Rehhagel. It was a battle of two different points of view, two different understandings of the game: one based on moments of individual brilliance that can be somehow composed into a somewhat coherent whole, and the other based on the team of workers, where everyone knows their place and role and where one works for all.
Photo: Fans celebrate after the 2010 World Cup Group B soccer match between Nigeria and Greece at Free State stadium in Bloemfontein June 17, 2010. REUTERS/Christian Charisius
For most of the first half, the Nigerian flowing game kept the Greeks in check. The Super Eagles scored an unlikely goal from the free kick that was masked as a cross and were pretty much dominating the game when they, for a reason no-one will ever really know, decided to push the self-destruct button:
Sony Kaita got himself red-carded for the silly reason of having an off-the-pitch altercation with Torosidis in the 33rd minute. From that moment, the match supremacy was handed to the Greeks.
Rehhagel quickly replaced a defender with an attacker and threw all he has into the attack. Only 10 minutes later, the Greeks were rewarded by an equiliser from Salpingindis’s relatively meek shot. The second half was utterly dominated by the Greeks who finally managed to capitalise on their numerical advantage when Torosidis (him again!) unmarked and unhassled by the Nigerian defenders, scooped the ball spilled by the brilliant Nigerian goalkeeper Enyeama and scored the defining goal of the match.
Even if they try, the Super Eagles can’t blame anyone but themselves. They were defeated by a team that is not nearly as talented as they are and they were very helpful in the process. Sony Kaita joins the ranks of many individually brilliant players who simply could not control their temper, a cardinal sin when playing against a team as disciplined and as committed as Greeks are.
Incidentally, the loss against Greece has not ended the Nigerians dreams of reaching the second round. It will depend on their ability to outplay tough the South Koreans and the Argentine’s determination in punishing the Greeks the same way they punished the South Koreans. Not impossible, but the Super Eagles will have to improve their game by an order of magnitude.
Greece: Alexandros Tzorvas, Giourkas Seitaridis, Vasilis Torosidis, Avraam Papadopoulos, Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Loukas Vyntra, Georgios Samaras, Kostas Katsouranis, Alexandros Tziolis, Giorgos Karagounis, Angelos Charisteas, Theofanis Gekas
Nigeria: Vincent Enyeama, Taye Taiwo, Joseph Yobo, Danny Shittu, Chidi Odiah, Lukman Haruna, Dickson Etuhu, Sani Kaita, Victor Nsofor Obinna, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Chinedu Obasi
Man of the match
Vincent ‘The Magnificent’ Enyeama
The first half
The first 10 minutes is more of a warm-up than an attempt to play a proper World Cup game. Nigerian players look strong and composed. Greeks look strong.
- 10th minute: First proper free kick. Karagounis’s cross was repelled easily by the Nigerian defence.
- 12th minute: Katsouranis spotted that Enyeama was of his line and tried a speculative shot from almost 50m, which the Nigerian keeper dealt with easily.
- 15th minute: Nigeria scores from the free kick, the first one of this World Cup. Well, it wasn’t exactly Uche’s proper shot on the goal that did it, but rather Peter Odemwingie’s dummy move that convinced Tzorvas he would attack the ball. When the Nigerian attacker simply left the ball to its own path, the Greek goalkeeper was well beaten, leaving Uche to claim Nigeria’s first goal.
Photo: Greece’s goalkeeper Alexandros Tzorvas (R) concedes a goal during the 2010 World Cup Group B soccer match against Nigeria at Free State stadium in Bloemfontein June 17, 2010. REUTERS/Christian Charisius
The goal is huge boost for Nigeria’s hopes of advancing into the next round. As the game settles back into the normal rhythm, both sides exchange many corners. Greek players look a little bewildered and their keeper Tzorvas made another unnecessary mistake that cost him a corner.
The Nigerians look far more purposeful and dangerous.
- 23rd minute: The first header by Kiriakos limps harmlessly over the line. Not much that the Greeks can do right today.
- 25th minute: Karagounis’s free kick turns into bad cross. The Greeks will have to pull themselves together, and soon.
- 33rd minute: Sony Kaita gets a red card after showing stud to Torosidis, who unnerved him for not releasing the ball. What was he thinking? By being monumentally stupid, he’s just handed a possible way out of this tough situation to Greece. Let’s see if they manage to capitalise on it.
Photo: igeria’s Sani Kaita (R) reacts as Referee Oscar Ruiz of Colombia shows him a red card for kicking Greece’s Vassilis Torosidis (L) during the 2010 World Cup Group B soccer match at Free State stadium in Bloemfontein June 17, 2010. REUTERS/Christian Charisius
- 35th minute: The same Torosidis almost scores, but misses a very good cross from the right-hand side by inches.
- 37th minute: Greek coach Rehhagel throws the caution to the wind and replaces a defender Papadopoulos with the pure attacker Samaras, who plies his trade for Celtic, in Scotland.
- 39th minute: Salpingindis gets in front of Enyeama, who makes a great save. The Greeks look more dangerous now.
- 41st minute: Samaras misses the goal, unimpeded from five metres.
- 43rd minute: Salpingindis scores for Greece! It was a scrappy affair, with Lukman Haruna diverting Salpingindis’s edge-of-the-penalty-box shot past the helpless Enyeama.
The sides are level. Many millions of fans all over Africa are cursing one Sony Kaita right now.
The second half starts with Greeks full of confidence and Nigerian defence looking unsteady. Neither team can afford to lose.
47th minute: Enyeama makes a great one-handed cross interception. Classy.
47th minute: Karagounis heads the ball above the crossbar, but Enyeama is extremely unhappy he was completely unmarked.
48th minute: Uche’s cross ends up flying over Tzorvas who manages to palm it over the goal, but only just.
54th minute: Taiwo is injured and off the field. The Greeks are trying to use their 11:9 advantage, but Enyeama stops another dangerous-looking header by Kyrgiakos.
55th minute: The Nigerian squad is back to 10, as Echiejile replaces injured Taiwo.
58th minute: Enyeama denies Gekas, who was given the ball seven metres from goal by Yobo. In a quick counter-attack, Yakubu was denied by Tzorvas and Obasi then misses the empty goal. Frustration for both sides.
68th minute: Enyeama just denied the very existence of gravity by saving an impossible-to-save header from Samaras. Possibly the save of the tournament.
71st minute: Heartbreak for Nigerian team: Tziolis’s shot was spilled by the so far brilliant Enyeama and Torosidis was there, completely unmarked. Greece leads two to one!
Photo: Greece’s Vassilis Torosidis (R) celebrates his goal during the 2010 World Cup Group B soccer match against Nigeria at Free State stadium in Bloemfontein June 17, 2010. REUTERS/Christian Charisius
- 75th minute: Karagounis’s long-range shot flies dangerously past the Nigerian goal; 30 seconds later, Yakubu repeats the feet on the opposite side.
- 77th minute: Karagounis shoots again from 20-odd metres and Enyeama saves, but barely.
Completely out of character, the Greeks besiege the Nigerian goal. One almost feels they would like to finish the opponent now.
- 82nd minute: A good shot from Uche flies past the Tzorvas’s left upright.
- 88th minute: Samaras gets a yellow card after burying his studs into his opponent’s ankle. He is lucky not to get a red card.
The closing minutes were consumed by harmless exchanges between both sides. It appears that the Nigerians have realised they lost this game and were just awaiting the referee’s final whistle.
Photo: Vincent the Maginificent: Nigeria’s goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama (C) reacts at the end of a 2010 World Cup Group B soccer match against Greece at Free State stadium in Bloemfontein June 17, 2010. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
By Branko Brkic
Main photo: Nigeria’s Danny Shittu reacts after their 2010 World Cup Group B soccer match against Greece at Free State stadium in Bloemfontein June 17, 2010. REUTERS/Jorge Silva