by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 28th 2014)
An unconvincing display by Stephen Keshi’s World Cup bound Nigeria, resulted in Gordon Strachan’s Scotland being pegged back to 2-2 in injury time. It was harsh on the Scots who took the lead within 10 minutes through Charlie Mulgrew. His subtle back-heeled flick from James Morrison’s shot was no fluke. It gave Nigeria’s second choice goalkeeper Austin Ejide no chance.
Scotland created the better chances in the first half but Keshi’s blushes at half time were spared as Michael Uchebo who had been profligate previously was put through by Reuben Gabriel and shot from 22 yards out,”It was a great goal”, Uchebo said with his tongue firmly in his cheek. It took a wicked deflection off Grant Hanley, giving Scotland’s keeper Alan McGregor no chance.
7 minutes into the second half Azubunke Egwuekwe’s attempt to clear Morrison’s cross as he was posed to shoot was sliced into his own net. Scotland’s captain Scott Brown had found Morrison on the right flank. Strachan’s improving team deserved to win the match, but in the first minute of added time Uche Nwofor grabbed another equaliser after being found by another substitute Nnamdi Oduamadi just outside the 6-yard box after a weak tackle by Morrison. It was barely deserved.
Referee Lee Probert had shown a thoroughly deserved yellow card for a cynical foul on Oduamadi a couple of minutes earlier. With the World Cup fast approaching it was the last thing Nigeria and Oduamadi who has problems with such tackling previously needed. Nevertheless, at times it seemed that Scotland rather than the Super-Eagles were playing like the team going to Brasil.
Scotland were the better team on the night, but to some extent they should have been. Anya exposed right back Kunle Odunlami’s lack of pace within the first five minutes. He really should have scored – tight angle or not. Nigeria’s reserve keeper Austin Ejide’s performance was bizarre. He is far better keeper than was seen tonight. His effort to deny left winger Ikechi Anya consisted of sticking out a leg and being relieved to see it go wide.
After 32 minutes Scotland should have seen their lead doubled. Shaun Maloney’s corner resulted in Ejide coming to punch, but under pressure he managed to catch and throw it into his own net. Was the ball playing tricks? First choice goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama prefers it to the ball used in South Africa’s World Cup. He also said,”I don’t comment on individuals”, when asked about Ejide’s performance.
In the second half Scotland had another goal disallowed. That looked a harsh off-side call by the linesman. Before the match had even started it was shrouded in controversy as allegations of match-fixing surfaced. Chelsea’s John Mikel Obi said he didn’t know where they had come from. Keshi’s decision to start a weak team raised a few eyebrows.
Enyeama whose form has been winning awards in France was not even in the squad for this match. Nor were Mikel Obi, Brown Ideye and Ahmed Musa among others. Keshi gave chances to fringe players to play their way onto the plane to Brasil. But was there even a remote chance that some of the players seen tonight would be going to the World Cup?
Playing out of position – he’s normally at centre back – Odunlami was frequently embarrassed by Anya’s pace. The quality of Anya’s crosses and shooting left a bit to be desired, but Nigeria’s opponents will have noted Odunlami is vulnerable against pace if he makes the trip – he appears to be in Keshi’s plans.
Shola Ameobi barely starts for Newcastle United, yet started for Nigeria tonight. Why? Is it really likely he’ll go, especially after snubbing Nigeria for the African Cup of Nations last year, preferring to miss out on a medal and history for a regular place on Newcastle’s bench. And if he doesn’t go – he shouldn’t, both for the snub and more importantly because he is not good enough – what was achieved by him playing tonight rather than a more likely option.
So close to the World Cup it’s hard to believe that African Cup of Nations winning coach Keshi doesn’t already know the squad he intends to take to Brasil. Does Keshi really think that Ameobi has a chance of making the trip and if so why? Keshi has not named his squad yet. There were some in the 22 – starting eleven as well – who have little if any chance of going to Brasil. Why were Nigeria’s fans seeing them? Only Keshi knows.