Super Eagles fly into Round of 16: Four talking points

Super Eagles fly into Round of 16: Four talking points

Ahmed Musa became the first Nigerian to score twice in a single World Cup match, and while Nigeria lost 2-3 to Argentina, they progress to the Round of 16 for the first time since 1998. ANTOINETTE MULLER picks four talking points from the match.

It’s taken a while, but Nigeria have finally shown up at the World Cup looking like they are the Champions of Africa. In a match where they matched Argentina almost pass for pass, attack for attack and poor defence for poor decence, Nigeria might have lost 3-2, but they walk away with a performance they can be proud of.

While Group F has been dubbed the “Group of Being Bored to Death”, the memo obviously showed up at Porto Alegre on Wednesday. A fierce opening saw Lionel Messi find the back of the net after three minutes, with Nigeria’s Ahmed Musa equalising just a minute later.

Musa’s goal was composed and mature and he continued his rise to the top, showing why he’s been dubbed one of Nigeria’s most talented stars. He was just 17 years old when he broke the record for the most goals in the Nigerian league back in the 2009-10 season. With fancy footwork and pace to match his skill, Musa’s legend has been growing for the last few years.

But the action was not going to stop there. Messi curled in a 20-metre free kick in the fourth minute of stoppage time to put Argentina ahead once again. This right after Vincent Enyeama made a wonderful stop.

It didn’t take Musa long to level again, as he became the first Nigerian to score twice in a World Cup game. Argentina then got a lucky third goal through a deflection of Marcos Rojo’s knee. But the result hardly mattered; Bosnia beat Iran 3-1 in their match to dump Team Melli out of the World Cup and ensure Nigeria’s progression.

While it wasn’t the Super Eagles’ most convincing performance, it was one of their best at the World Cup so far.

An anomaly in goal stats

The law of averages had its say in this match. Argentina have mustered just eight goals across the six matches played against Nigeria; an average of 1.3 per game. But Argentina have kept their winning streak over Nigeria in World Cups. The teams have now met four times in the tournament, with Argentina winning every single game.

Vincent Enyeama once again plays a valuable part

Vincent Enyeama has been one of Nigeria’s key players. Not only is he steady between the posts, his ability to command and motivate the defence from the back is crucial. The team have come to rely on him to be both influential in the game and inspirational for morale. It’s been steady progression for the keeper who was once known better for scoring penalties than keeping them out. When he was playing at Enyimba, he would often be replaced by Dele Aiyenugba, since he was seen as the better option to keep the kicks at bay. He eventually moved to Israel and then to France and has improved much since then. So much so that in the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final, Enyeama not only stopped a spot kick, he also scored the decisive one. His stature has grown since then and he has become Nigeria’s undisputed number one in recent years.

Lionel Messi

Messi will always be a talking point on his own and he showed off once again in Argentina’s final group game. Finally coming to the fore for his national team, it seems the only thing the Little Master cannot do is pay his taxes. Although he was subbed early, Messi had set up the game for Argentina and the risk paid off for the coach. After a draught at the 2010 World Cup where he failed to score a single goal, Messi is now on course to be the player of the tournament.

“Messi is one heck of a player. There are good calibre players in the Argentina team, but Messi is from Jupiter,” Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi said afterwards.

Nigeria’s plucky fight and the gusto of the knockouts

Concerning for Nigeria will be their foul count. They committed 17 against Argentina and picked up two yellow cards. Some of the tackling was irresponsible and unnecessary, but it did add to the intensity of the match. Neither side sat back for a dull draw, despite the fact that such a result would see both through. It was end-to-end stuff, perhaps as both sides went searching for a little bit of oomph as the knockouts loom. Nigeria will play France in the Round of 16. That is all set up for a tasty contest as the Super Eagles have shown they can batten down the hatches when needed. The first goal conceded in this game was the first Enyeama had let slip in over 220 minutes of World Cup football. Considering France’s ability to press forward, it will be a massive test of Nigeria’s defence. If you thought the group games were exciting, buckle up for this round. DM

Photo: Okechukwu Uchebo (L) of Nigeria in action against Javier Mascherano (R) of Argentina during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group F preliminary round match between Nigeria and Argentina at the Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre, Brazil, 25 June 2014.


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