Durban's Tuesday night duel drew many a gasp of disbelief as Nigeria allowed the hard-working Asians a draw in a match of missed chances and ill-disciplined defensive play. It ended Nigeria 2, South Korea 2.
For all the talk of this being an African World Cup, the results aren’t going Africa’s way. So far, South Africa and almost certainly Ivory Coast have not made it into the last 16. Nigeria joins them in an early trip home, after failing to capitalise on what should have been a victory for them.
If you want a metaphor for Tuesday’s game, a sort of moment to encapsulate the mind, mood and movement of the game, then look no further than the 66th minute missed goal by Yakubu Aiyegbeni. A low cross came skittering across the surface, Jung Sung Ryong, the South Korean keeper dived for it and completely missed it. Yakubu was faced with an empty goal, the ball at his feet and the hopes of millions of Africans resting, quite literally, at his feet. With great skill, Yakubu thumped the ball just wide of the empty goal, a move breathtakingly difficult to pull off in the face of the goalmouth gaping in front of him. It was a moment that will live in Nigeria’s and Africa’s memories for a very long time. It was the worst miss of this World Cup, perhaps of any World Cup ever.
The eventual result was a 2 – 2 draw, but Nigeria could have made it 4 – 2, maybe even more. Nigeria huffed and puffed through this match, creating scores of chances yet lacked the composure to finish most of them. Some of the chances, like Yakubu’s calamitous miss, were beautifully crafted. Alas, the Super Eagles side were too pumped up and not clearheaded enough to put this one in the bag.
Psychology plays an enormous role in a football match. A team’s collective mindset can often be the deciding factor. On Tuesday night, one got the sense that Nigeria were just a little too aware of what was at stake, and struggled to deal with the pressure. How else can you explain Yakubu’s miss?
As long as we’re pointing fingers, how much of the blame can be placed at Lars Lagerback’s feet? Perhaps it isn’t the Nigerian national coach’s fault that he only had five months to prepare his team for the World Cup (had he had more time, there’s no doubt that he could have done something about the Nigerians’ composure), but we do blame him for bringing Nwanku Kanu on. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. Why, dear Lars, why? Why was this fossil marched out when Nigeria had players like Obafemi Martins on the bench? It didn’t make any sense, and neither did Kanu’s playing. By the time Martins was brought on in the 57th minute, it was already too late.
But ultimately the team have no one to blame but themselves. They were, in general, an ill-disciplined side. They could have walked over the Greeks, were it not for Sani Kaita’s moment of insanity and the subsequent red card. South Korea’s second goal, which came from an excellently struck free kick by Park Chu Young, came about due to foul play. So did the first. Just like the Ivory Coast players, who played some truly horrific football against Brazil on Sunday, Nigeria once again played into the stereotype that describes the African footballer as immature and incendiary.
South Korea, on the other hand, had everything Nigeria lacked: clean play, a good defence and a devastating final touch. Most importantly, they had Park Ji Sung. The Manchester United midfielder played like a man possessed. The fixture may have been billed as South Korea vs Nigeria, but large sections of the second half felt like Park Ji Sung vs Vincent Enyeama.
As much as the continent would have loved to see Nigeria qualify for the last 16, South Korea deserve to go through. For their trouble, they face Group A winners Uruguay in Port Elizabeth on the 26 June.
Here are the reporter’s notes:
Nigeria: Enyeama, Yobo, Afolabi, Shittu, Odiah, Uche, Yussuf, Etuhu, Kanu, Yakubu, Obasi Ogbuke
South Korea: Jung Sung-Ryong, Cho Yong-Hyung, Lee Young-Pyo, Lee Jung-Soo, Cha Du-Ri, Park Ji-Sung, Kim Jung-Woo, Ki Sung-Yeung, Lee Chung-Yong, Park Chu-Young, Yeom Ki-Hun
Man of the match
- 12th minute: Uche does ever so well to score. He beat a Korean defender to reach a low cross for a shot at goal.
- 23rd minute: Obasi has a shot at goal.
South Korea seem out of it, somehow. Not to detract from Nigeria, who are doing a great job, but this isn’t the same South Korea that routed the Greeks.
- 30th minute: Yellow card goes to Vincent Enyeama for obstructing Ji Sung Park. What was the Nigerian keeper doing out on the side of the field? More importantly, where was the defence?
- 34th minute: Park Chu-Young tries a low free kick that skids just past Enyeama’s goal.
- 35th minute: That was magnificent. Uche took a shot from distance, rattling it against the woodwork. That would have been one of the greatest goals of this World Cup.
- 37th minute: Obasi gets a yellow card. Ki Sung-Yeung takes the ball and fires a beautiful cross into the Nigerian area. Some poor defending by Afolabi grants Lee Jung Soo a chance to nod it past Enyeama for a goal.
- 41st minute: Another yellow card for a Nigerian player – this one to Yusuf Ayella for a stupid foul on a South Korean player. Yeom Ki Hun takes the free kick, and gets a good strike, but cannot get past Enyeama.
- 47th minute: A free kick to Nigeria. Kanu bundled off the ball by Cho Yong Hyung. The referee signals half time before the Nigerians can take the free kick.
End of the first half.
- 48th minute: A free kick to South Korea. Shittu is the guilty party this time. Park Chu-Young takes it, and scores! Enyeama’s view was obscured, and by the time he saw and reacted to intercept the oncoming ball, he was too late.
Nigeria’s indiscipline lets them down again.
- 53rd minute: Nwanko Kanu commits a foul of his own, backing into a South Korean player. Park Chu-Young fancies his chances again, but sends it just wide of Enyeama’s goal.
- 57th minute: Kanu makes way for Obafemi Martins.
- 58th minute: Yakubu almost put Nigeria on level terms after winning the ball and racing into the Korean defence. Cho Yong Hyung managed to get in the way to prevent Yakubu’s shot.
- 62nd minute: Park Chu-Young could have put that one past Enyeama had he had more control. His shot rises over the Nigerian keeper, but not high enough to elude his outstretched hand.
- 63rd minute: Kim Nam Il comes on for Yeom Ki Kun.
- 66th minute: Unbelievable! Yakubu misses a shot that can’t be more than 30 centimetres away from the line, after Jung Sung Ryong had committed and missed the cross. How could he possibly miss that one?
Photo: Nigeria’s Yakubu Aiyegbeni (2nd R) runs with the ball after scoring from a penalty kick during the 2010 World Cup Group B soccer match against South Korea at Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban June 22, 2010. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won
- 67th minute: Well, Nigeria can rectify matters with a chance from the penalty spot. Obasi was swept off his feet from behind, and Yakubu will have another go inside a minute. This time his composure is back and he sends the Korean keeper the wrong way. Nigeria 2; South Korea 2.
- 70th minute: That was Yakubu’s last contribution to this game. He comes off for Victor Obinha.
- 71st minute: Shittu nearly committed a terrible error here: Cha Du Ri fired in a cross, and Shittu almost turned it into an own goal.
- 72nd minute: Kim Nam Il gets a yellow card for barging into
Park Ji Sung is almost single-handedly trying to score here. So far, he’s had no luck.
- 74th minute: Park Ji Sung is playing out of his skin. He skips and dances past a Nigerian defender before thumping the ball against the side-netting.
- 76th minute: Enyeama is called upon once again to make a save, this time from a Lee Chung Yong cross.
- 78th minute: Enyeama easily scoops a corner out of the air.
- 79th minute: It’s Obafemi Martins who makes an unbelievable miss this time. He has yards of space, but chips it wide of Ju Sung Ryong.
Nigeria are creating, but not finishing. They will only have themselves to blame for this, really.
- 85th minute: Ki Sung Yeung’s spectacular bicycle kick goes horribly wrong and he lands on his back, the wind knocked out of him. He’ll be fine…
- 87th minute: Ki Sung Yeung comes off. Not fine, then. Kim Jae Sung comes on.
- 89th minute: Obinna puts a vicious shot inches wide. How many times has that happened tonight?
- 90th minute: And again! Obinna smashes another shot from distance only inches wide.
- 92nd minute: Park Chu Yong comes off. Kim Dong Jin will get a few seconds of play.
End of the match, and Nigeria have crashed out.
By Sipho Hlongwane
Photo: South Korea’s Park Chu-young (C) celebrates his goal with team mates during the 2010 World Cup Group B soccer match against Nigeria at Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban June 22, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
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