Africa’s Finest

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (January 7th 2015)

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Prestigious African Footballers

Football without super stars is like tea without sugar. We are in the season of celebrating the super-stars of African football – the players whose light has shone brightest in the football constellation. Tomorrow the Confederation of African Football (CAF) will elect its winner of the prestigious African Footballer of the Year Award for 2014.

The event, which takes place in Lagos has become very significant for the players because it shoots their status and profile sky high onto a new pedestal of respect and prosperity. It can earn players moves to glamorous clubs, or in some cases boost their wages and prestige. It also raises the profile of African football outside the continent.

Surprises

Vincent Enyeama 1

In the final list of five players for the 2014 award there are a few surprise inclusions. The first is Nigeria’s Vincent Enyeama. It is not common to find goalkeepers listed for the African award. If it were not so, there is no reason why Vincent should not have been listed, or have even won the award, in 2013.

His stellar performances in the French league for Lille FC, and for Nigeria during the African Cup of Nations, leading the Super-Eagles to only their third triumph has earned him more than enough credit to merit an indisputable place amongst Africa’s best players. But goalkeepers tend to be overlooked. Just look at what happened last year.

Vincent Enyeama Smiling

The belated observation made by a few of us – myself included – who commented on his omission last year may have precipitated the present attention on him (and possibly on other goalkeepers in the next few years).

Keepers

Goalkeepers occasionally used to be nominated, but their contributions have been neglected in awards. Unfortunately, it’s been a long time since the last one was even nominated, let alone won. Before Enyeama’s recent nomination the last goalkeeper to be considered – and he did not win it – was Joseph Antoine Bell of Cameroon in 1989.

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And before Bell, the last keeper to be nominated was Zaki Badou – recognised by CAF in 2006 as one of Africaʼs best 200 players over the previous half century. Badou is the current manager of Morocco. It is his second spell in charge of the Atlas Lions. Sadly Moroccoʼs decision to refuse to host the African Cup of Nations has denied him the opportunity to shine.

Badou is one of Moroccoʼs greatest ever players. In 1986 Badou won the African Footballer of the Year Award, then by France Football Magazine. CAF organised its own award in 1992, which competed with the France Football Magazine award for two years (from 1994 onwards only CAFʼs award remains).

Badou played in Spain for RCD Mallorca and proved that his 1986 award was no fluke. He moved to Spain that year. Badou won the prestigious Zamora Trophy – the award for the La Liga goalkeeper with the lowest goals to games played ratio – for the 1988-89 season. As a manger he had success with his former club Wydad in Morocco and took the Atlas Lions to the final of the 2004 African Cup of Nations. Badou has pedigree.

Zaki Badou at Press Conference

Shamefully Overlooked

However Cameroonian great Thomas Nkono showed that goalkeepers who excel can be rewarded. Nkono won the African Footballer of the Year Award twice – 1979 and 1981. Sandwiched between his triumphs was my best year in this competition. I came second to his Canon Yaoundé team-mate and strangely unheralded (outside of Africa) Cameroonian great Jean Manga-Onguéné.

I canʼt complain as he led his team to the Cameroonian League title and African Champions Cup. Badou was not the first Moroccan keeper to win the award. Chabab Mohammédiaʼs Ahmed Faras beat African legend Roger Milla into second place in 1975.

Segun at Wembley

The good thing is that Vincent Enyeama’s nomination has reawakened interest in the performances of African goalkeepers, which has often been overlooked in favour of strikers or midfielders.

That may also explain why all of the players that have won the award since its inception (except for the goalkeepers listed earlier) have been goal scorers (strikers and midfielders). No defender has ever won the award despite the whole army of absolutely brilliant defenders in the continent’s history. If Enyeama wins it could therefore produce a change of attitude and appreciation of the finest exponents of other positions.

Surprise

Enyeama is not the only surprise on this yearʼs list. Gabon’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been one of the most underrated African players in Europe. He has been around the football circuit in Europe ‘quietly’ plying his trade and honing his goal-scoring skills and instincts. He is the son of another neglected African great. Pierre Aubameyang played for Gabon 80 times. Unlike his son he was a defender. He was the first Gabonese footballer to play in France, including for Toulouse and Nice. He is now a scout for AC Milan.

Pierre Aubameyang Snr

Pierre-Emerick came through AC Milanʼs youth structures, but was laned to various clubs in France, eventually signing for Saint-Étienne in 2011. Having established his credentials in France and when Gabon co-hosted the African Cup of Nations in 2012 he moved to Borussia Dortmund FC last season.

That transfer has changed not only his profile, but also the quality of his football, providing him the platform to showcase his immense striking prowess and nose for goals. This past year, particularly, he has matured into one of the deadliest strikers from Africa playing in the Bundesliga and in the European Champions League.

His speed and deadliness in front of goal have been phenomenal. Playing for one of Europe’s best teams along with other world class players has surely sharpened the edge to his game. He is attracting raving reviews, lots of attention, respect and accolades.

Coming from a small African country that does not win anything in the continent surely has reduced his direct impact in Africa, but that didnʼt stop Liberiaʼs George Weah and Maliʼs Frédéric Kanouté winning in 1995 and 2007, it would not surprise me if, purely on the strength of present performance, he is acknowledged in a year that few Africans have really been exceptional.

Surely, in terms of ability and his contribution to the ongoing success of his Borussia Dortmund – despite the wretched start to this seasonʼs Bundesliga that Jürgen kloppʼs team are enduring – week in week out, he stands shoulder to shoulder with any of the other nominees.

Another Surprise

My compatriot Ahmed Musa is another surprise inclusion. He is a regular in CSKA Moscowʼs team. Musa showed his talent in the Under-20 World Cup in Colombia in 2011 – a tournament graced by several talents on their way to becoming important names in football. West Bromwich Albionʼs Saido Berahino made that trip too. Joel Campbell hasnʼt delivered for Arsenal, although he has impressed on loan and is a mainstay of Costa Ricaʼs national team also appeared in that tournament.

Real Madridʼs James Rodríguez and Isco, Atlético de Madridʼs Koke and Antoine Griezmann, Liverpoolʼs Philippe Coutino, Tottenham Hotspurʼs Erik Lamela, Benficaʼs Nelson Oliveira (just loaned to Swansea City for the rest of this season and Chelseaʼs Oscar and Mohamed Salah, among others. Musa held his own in this company even then and he has developed since then.

He is one of the fastest footballers in the world with the uncanny ability to outsprint defenders. His finishing and crosses could be inconsistent and that has often reduced his overall impact. His performances for Nigeria during the 2014 World Cup and during the AFCON 2015 qualifiers stood out as one of the more consistent in a field of erratic strikers in the Nigerian team. However, his chances of winning the 2014 African award are slim considering that the next two players in the list may be just ahead of him in terms of impact for their club and country.

The Lifetime Achievement Candidate

Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan could have won the African Best Player award already if he had not been playing his football in the same era as Didier Drogba, Samuel Etoʼo and Yaya Touré. One after the other, these three players have completely dominated the African football scene in the past decade.

Samuel Eto'o

It is clear that a player had to be exceptionally gifted to break their grip on the title. That’s the reason why even extra-ordinarily talented players like Nigeriaʼs Jay Jay Okocha and the Black Starsʼ Michael Essien did not win it.

Asamoah Gyan has resurfaced again in CAF’s list even as he has moved in the past three seasons to establish himself as one of the best players ever in Asian football history. But Asia is not Europe. Gyan held his own in England at Sunderland before forcing a move to the Middle-East. Playing in an obscure league for a completely unknown club called Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates does not help his cause. It may cost him the award again.

Nevertheless, some people think he played some of his best football during the 2014 World Cup, scoring two goals and becoming the African player with the highest number of goals in the history of the World Cup, one goal ahead of the legendary Roger Milla. Another factor in Gyanʼs favour – perhaps the most important this time – would be because selectors may already be developing Yaya Touré fatigue.

Dominant

Yaya Touré has been so dominant in the midfield where he plays for his Club and for his country that it will surprise no one should he get the award for the fourth consecutive time. Without question he is the most gifted African player of this generation – tall, powerful, elegant, graceful, skilful, deceptively quick, technically proficient and masterful on the ball. He is the only African player in FIFA’s list of the world’s best 20 players in 2014.

This season he has not played quite up to the level of the previous season but he is still dominating every midfield, dictating and controlling play, and delivering deadly ‘poison’ of goals whenever he finds himself in the periphery of the oppositionʼs goals. Also he has returned to form for Manchester City at just the right time for the selectors to notice.

CAF and its President Issa Hayatou may sentimentally want a new face to adorn the award and to break the monotony of another Yaya Touré victory, but on form and achievement he is the best of the candidates. He deserves to clinch the title of Africa’s best footballer again.

Issa Hayatou 3

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No Easy Games

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (October 10th 2014

Surprises

The gap in international football is closing according to African Cup of Nations winner Vincent Enyeama and England manager, Roy Hodgson. “There are no more minnows in African football”, Enyeama said last year as the Super-Eagles ended their wait of almost two decades to win their third Nations Cup. 

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As if to emphasise his point that group included the then defending champions Zambia, but the Chipolopolo went home early and unfancied Burkina Faso made it to the final from a group of surprises and a tournament that defied conventional wisdom. “There are no more minnows”, Enyeama re-iterated. “Weʼre just going to take them like another opponent. Everyoneʼs contending for the champions”.

Nigeria went on to win the tournament and compete in the Confederationsʼ Cup and World Cup. The early stages of both competitions produced surprises too.

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No More Surprises

After beating San Marino 5-0 Hodgson called for a repraisal of international footballʼs so-called minnows. “Surprises”? Hodgson said. “I think we should stop being surprised these days in international football, you know. I donʼt think we can any more just expect any more because you happen to be called Switzerland, or Spain, or Russia, or England that whoever you play, youʼre going to go and beat them, because they donʼt have so many people living in the country as you do. I think weʼve got to stop that.

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San Marino currently occupies bottom place in FIFAʼs rankings, but Hodgson offered words of encouragement. “I must say of San Marino, I thought they were better this year”, he said. “I thought they were actually a better team this year than they were last year, so theyʼre making strides forward, albeit that as an amateur team itʼs going to take them a long while before they can beat the likes of us at Wembley, I hope anyway”.

The Minnows Roar

Pierangelo Manzaroli never had any illusions that his San Marino team could trouble England, but he hopes to see his team make history. “ We hope to get a result from the rest of the qualifying campaign”, Manzaroli said. “Obviously getting a result against a team like England is very hard, but there are other teams like Estonia, Slovenia or Lithuania where we can hopefully get a historic draw, or even a more historic win for our nation”.

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San Marino face a Switzerland team next week the Swiss are suffering a World Cup hang over having lost to England and also Slovenia. “Obviously teams like England, Switzerland, Slovenia are out of our league, but I think thereʼll be a different spirit at home in San Marino”, Manzaroli said. “All the commitment we showed today, weʼll show even more in San Marino and I feel we can make life hard for them”.

England face Estonia on Sunday, buoyed by an impressive win in Basel and a comfortable 5-0 thrashing of San Marino. Safet Sušićʼs World Cup finalists need something from tonightʼs match with Chris Colemanʼs resurgent Wales team.

Van Gaalʼs Bluff Pays off

 

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 5th 2014)

The Bluff

Despite making an excellent save to deny Kuban Krasnadorʼs Marco Ureña Porras and keep his country in the World Cup a few minutes before the end of extra time, Ajaxʼs Jasper Cillessen was replaced by ʻpenalties specialistʼ Tim Krul. It was a very brave call by Dutch manager Louis van Gaal, especially as Krul did not have a good record with penalties. He had only saved two out of twenty for Newcastle United. Ironically Swanseaʼs Michel Vorm has a better penalty saving record.

Krul emerged the hero despite his gamesmanship, which worked. Van Gaal and Krul got into the heads of the Costa Ricans. Bryan Ruiz Gonzálezʼ penalty was weak and saved by Krul. They didnʼt work on the Columbus Crewʼs Giancarlo González or FCKʼs Christian Bolaños Navarro, but Michael Umaña Corrales – one of the Costa Rican-based players in Jorge Pinto Afanadorʼs team – was psyched out by Krul.

Not even the Man of the Match performance of Levanteʼs Keylor Navas Gamboa could deny the Dutch from the spot as all four of their penalty-takers scored.

Credit Where itʼs Due

Van Gaal was hailed a tactical genius, but credit where itʼs due, this was not the first time this tactic had been tried and succeeded. In 2004 FC Enyimbeʼs coach Felix Okey Emordi did it twice to the bemusement of his number one Vincent Enyeama in the African Championʼs League and it worked both times. Tunisiaʼs Esperance were astonished when Dele Aiyenugba replaced Enyeama for the penalty shoot-out.

Aiyenugba emerged the hero as FC Enyimba advanced to the final. Enyeama was back between the sticks for the final, but with penalties looming Emordi decided that a repeat dose was necessary. Aiyenugba was the hero again as FC Enyimba retained the Championʼs League on penalties. Tunisiaʼs Étoile du Sahel fell at the final hurdle to the same tactic. To try the tactic twice in a semi-final and repeat it in a final takes incredible courage and is worthy of great credit.

The Fairytale Ends

The USA reached the semi-final of the inaugural World Cup in 1930, but that was years before CONCACAF was founded. Costa Ricaʼs previous best was the last 16 in 1990. They bettered that and gave the Netherlands a run for their money. The match really came alive in extra time. Two minutes into the first period Robbenʼs corner was headed goal-ward by Ron Vlaar. Navas saved. He was hurt shortly afterwards, but recovered to continue.

A minute after Navas resumed Ureña received a throw-in from substitute Dave Myrie and cut into the box. He went down under Aston Villaʼs Vlaarʼs challenge wanting a penalty which Uzbek referee Ravshan Irmatov declined to award. It was third penalty appeal that the surprise package of this World Cup could and perhaps should have had – two in normal time.

After 23 minutes of extra time Galatasaray midfielder Wesley Sneijder slotted it through for PSV Eindhovenʼs Memphis Depay, who was just offside. He shot anyway and Navas made his customary excellent save. With less than five minutes left Myrie intercepted Daley Blindʼs punt forward, kicking on for Ruiz to head into Ureñaʼs path.

The man who replaced Arsenalʼs on loan Joel Campbell Samuels after 65 minutes dribbled into the area, but his shot was well saved by Cillessen to keep the Dutch in the contest. With two minutes of extra time left Sneijder finally found a way past the excellent Navas, but his 25 yard shot hit the post. A lazy shot by Schalke04ʼs Klaas-Jan Huntelaar went out of play allowing van Gaal to bring Krul on for the perplexed Cillessen.

Immense

Navas enhanced his reputation once more and will surely earn a move to a bigger club – Levante would be crazy if they let him leave for a cent less than his buy-out clause. He was absolutely immense. It began just after 20 minutes as a move involving Bayern Münchenʼs Arjen Robben, Fenerbahçeʼs Dirk Kuyt, Depay and finally Manchester Unitedʼs Robin van Persie on the left, but Navas saved well. The rebound was helped on to Sneijder by Depay, but Sneijderʼs shot was never going to beat Navas.

Six minutes later Ruiz was shoved in the back by Sneijder. Irmatov gave a free-kick which Bolaños whipped in, but it went out of play although AIK Stockholmʼs Celso Borges Mora was manhandled by Bruno Martins-Indi. Replays confirmed that it should have been a penalty, as the Feyenoord defender was impeding Borges, as the replays confirmed. Irmatov either missed or ignored the offence.

A minute later van Persie surged forward and slotted Depay in, but Navas was equal to the task again. With under ten minutes of the first half remaining Júnior Díaz Campbell who booked for tug on Robben. Sneijder tries free-kick from 25 yards out, but well saved to right by Navas. Five minutes later PSV Eindhovenʼs Georginio Wijnaldum poked it through to Robben. The Dutch winger put van Persie through on left of area, but Navas rushed off his line quickly to claim at van Persieʼs feet.

Intense

With just under an hour played FSV Mainz05ʼs Díaz found space on the left wing and crossed for Campbell who was pushed in the back by Martins-Indi. Again it looked a penalty, but wasnʼt given. A minute later when Feyenoordʼs Stefan de Vrij committed the same offence nearer the half way line than penalty area. That was given, but the opportunity was wasted.

With just over ten minutes of normal time left Kuyt crossed from the right, but found Dynamo Kyivʼs Jeremain Lens just offside. Navas saved his header anyway. A minute later despite suggesting that Robben had dived González was booked for tugging him off. Sneijder responded with a fantastic free-kick, which hit the near post with Navas beaten – he had earned some luck. And two minutes after that Robbenʼs free-kick broke to van Persie on right of area. His turn to make room to shoot was magnificent, but once again Navas was equal to it.

In added time Díaz who had already been booked was fortunate to avoid another card for tripping Robben on the right edge of the area. It was a dreadful tackle. With added time drawing to a close the Dutch had one more great opportunity.

Blind crossed from left. It deflected off Costa Rican side Deportivo Saprissaʼs Yeltsin Tejada Valverde to van Persie whose shot beat Navas, but was miss-hit onto bar by Tejada on the line. Extra time came and went and Costa Ricaʼs dream was ended on penalties. The Netherlands will face Argentina in a repeat of the controversial final of 1978 which helped to prop up the disgusting dictatorship of the late and unlamented General Jorge Videla Redondo.

 

Les Bleus France Advance to Quarter-Final

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 30th 2014)

Super-Eaglesʼ Jinx Continues 

With just over ten minutes remaining a tight match turned decisively in Franceʼs favour. Lilleʼs Vincent Enyeama flapped at Mathieu Valbuenaʼs corner and palmed it to Paul Pogba. Juventusʼ midfielder nodded it in to give Didier Deschampsʼ team the lead. It was a pity that the last keeper to concede a goal in the first round and jointly led keepers throughout Europe in clean sheets and made important saves in this match made the mistake that cost the Africans champions dear.

Two minutes into injury a different corner routine also involving Valbuena led to the second. A short corner to the Marseille midfielder caught the Nigerian defence out. Valbuena squared it for substitute Antoine Griezman. Enyeama was beaten by a deflection off Super-Eagles captain Joseph Yobo. Shortly after the Fenerbahçe defenderʼs error, Deschamps allowed Valbuena to receive a well earned ovation from French fans and waste a bit of time.

Deserved

On the balance of play France deserved to continue Nigeriaʼs last sixteen jinx and put the horrors of their wretched campaign four years ago firmly behind them. Deschamps chose to deploy Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema on the left and Arsenalʼs Oliver Giroud in the striker role. Both proved ineffective. The introduction of Griezman proved to be the turning point.

Nigeria had been the better side in the first half. After 18 minutes CSKA Moscowʼs Ahmed Musa – the first and so far only Nigerian to score two goals in a match at the World Cup Finals – crossed for the much touted, but so far ineffective Emmanuel Emenike to score his first goal with a deft flick past Tottenham Hotspurʼs Hugo Lloris. Sadly for Stephen Keshi and his assistant Daniel Amokachi it was ruled offside and it was – just.

Turning Points

A mistimed but reckless tackle by Paris Saint-Germainʼs Blaise Matuidi ended Lazioʼs Ogenyi Onaziʼs afternoon. Matuidi was shown a yellow card by American referee Mark Geiger. Matuidi was genuinely apologetic to Onazi, but the midfielder was stretchered off. He would not return.

Enyeama made a couple of important saves, but could do nothing when former Newcastle United favourite Yohan Cabaye picked up the pieces of John Mikel Obiʼs clearance and shot from outside the area. He was very unlucky that it beat Enyeama, but struck the crossbar.

Midway through the first half Pogba surged through the centre, playing a neat one-two with Valbuena before volleying. Enyeama denied him. With just over twenty minutes remaining Benzema and Griezman combined on the left to create a golden opportunity for Benzema. Enyeama took the pace off it and Victor Moses scrambled back to clear.

Eventually the pressure told. France got the goals to take then through to the quarter-final and a tie against either Algeria or Germany.

Messi Shines as Argentina Top Group

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 25th 2013)

The Messi Show

Inspired by the great Lionel Messi Argentina beat Nigeria 3-2 to match Colombiaʼs feat in topping their group. Within two minutes Messi opened the scoring, achieving something Iran and Bosnia-Herzegovina combined could not – beating the exceptionally gifted Super-Eaglesʼ goal-keeper Vincent Enyeama. Enyeama went two months without conceding a goal in Ligue Un. Just over a minute later CSKA Moscowʼs Ahmed Musa equalised. Michael Babatunde set him up for a splendid goal.

With almost the last kick of the first half Messiʼs second free-kick in quick succession restored Argentinaʼs lead. Up and over the wall it dipped sufficiently to beat Enyeama whose heroics had proved a formidable barrier to Argentinaʼs ambitions. Less than a minute into the second half Musa equalised again. Emmanuel Emenike got the assist.

The winner as it proved to be came shortly afterwards. Paris Saint-Germainʼs Ezequiel Lavezziʼs shot was saved by Enyeama at the expense of a corner. Lavezzi took the corner which glanced off Ezequiel Garay Gonzálezʼ head onto Marcos Rojoʼs knee and in, leaving Enyeama with no chance.

A Formidable Final Barrier

Lilleʼs keeper enhanced his growing reputation with a string of excellent saves. With less than ten minutes played Messi slotted it through for Gonzalo Higuaín, but Enyeama stayed big, forcing Higuaín wide enough to make him put his shot wide of the near post. With quarter of an hour played Sergio Agüeroʼs cross was claimed on the ground by Enyeama at his near post, preventing a tap-in.

Real Madridʼs Ángel di María Hernández had a wonderful match, orchestrating chances and testing Enyeama himself. Just under half an hour into the match di Maríaʼs 23 yard shot was tipped round the post by Enyeama. Chelseaʼs John Mikel Obi was caught in possession by Lavezzi and fouled him. Messiʼs 30 yard free-kick was acrobatically saved by Enyeama, but another free-kick was quickly conceded and Messi gave no chance with that one.

Resolved

Less than 5 minutes into the second half di Maríaʼs shot resulted in Enyeama saving at the expense of the corner that he was unlucky to concede from. Messi put Higuaín through with less than ten second half minutes played, but Enyeama saved again. With just over a quarter of an hour remaining Enyeama denied Lavezzi.

Nigeria contributed to an entertaining match. Efe Ambroseʼs effort hit the side-netting and the Super-Eagles, despite losing, showed how to play Argentina. The freak injury to Babatundeʼs arm notwithstanding, it was a good performance in a tournament that has been disappointing for the African nations. Iranʼs defeat by Bosnia-Herzegovina meant the defeat didnʼt matter.

After a string of first round failures Nigeria has reached the last 16. They will most likely play against France who play Ecuador tonight. Honduras and Switzerland still have hopes of qualifying as do Ecuador. It will take a freakish set of results to deny France a place in the last 16.

 

Super-Eagles Soar Again

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 21st 2014)

Resurrected

African Champions Nigeria resurrected their hopes of qualification with an impressive performance against World Cup Finals débutants Bosnia-Herzegovina. Stoke Cityʼs Peter Odemwingie scored the matchʼs only goal, although Manchester Cityʼs Edin Džeko had a perfectly good goal ruled out for offside.

Replays proved that the officials led by New Zealander Peter OʼLeary were wrong. Both the referee and his assistant were in perfectly good position to see that Džekoʼs goal should have stood – yet another poor decision by the officials.

As the match was drawing to a close Džeko, who had been profligate, especially by his high standards, turned and shot. Lilleʼs Vincent Enyeama saved with his leg onto his post. Replays established that OʼLeary had missed a blatant hand ball by Džeko to control it when turning to shoot. It was a bookable offence.

Historic

Nigeriaʼs victory was their first at this stage for 16 years and its was deserved – they were by far the better team. Emmanuel Emenike – anonymous against Iran was galvanised to justify his tag as potential star of the tournament. Targeting Bosnian captain Emir Spahić, Emenike out-muscled the Bayer Leverkusen defender and pulled it back for Odemwingie to shoot between Asmir Begovićʼs legs for the only goal of the match – the one that condemns Bosnia-Herzegovina to elimination at the group stage.

While Begović excelled and Romaʼs Miralem Pjanić pulled strings to supply Džeko, the Manchester City forward found Enyeama equal to his efforts. Musa was denied by Begović twice and John Mikel Obi hit the side-netting from 20 yards out. Pjanić brought a smart save from Enyeama.

Meanwhile, Spahić was proving to be a liability. His dreadful pass after just 6 minutes gave possession to CSKA Moscowʼs Ahmed Musa. Haris Medunjanin was booked for hauling Musa back. Odemwingieʼs free-kick went close, but a clear deflection for a corner was missed by the officials. Spahić would later be out-muscled by Emenike for the goal.

Nigeria in particular chased more with efforts by Emenike, Michel Babatunde and Lazioʼs Ogenyi Onaze thwarted by Begović. Enyeama proved to be an effective final barrier too with his second clean sheet afte, r denying Pjanić and Džeko after the break. Only a Iranian victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina can deny the Super-Eagles a place in the last 16. With a likely clash against a rampant France in store for the second placed team in Group F, Stephen Keshi knows that a victory over group favourites Argentina would be welcome, providing an extra incentive if one were needed not to settle for a draw.

 

 

Bore Draw

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 16th 2014)

Poor

Carlos Quierozʼ Iran are hard to beat as Stephen Keshiʼs African champions found to their cost. Emmanuel Emenike was said to be likely to be one of the stars of the World Cup, but the he had a terrible outing – his team-mates didnʼt do much better. This was supposed to be the weakest side, but chances were few and far between.

Shola Ameobi started on the bench, but replaced Victor Moses 7 minutes into the second half, but his glancing headers did not require Haghighi to make a save. Another substitute Peter Odemwingie was wrongly penalised for handball as his shot flashed just wide. He correctly pointed to his shoulder, but it made no difference.

Chances

Ahmed Musaʼs 31st minute free-kick showed the creativity required, but there was too little of it. Shaping to cross Musa shot instead leaving Haghighi to make the scramble to deny him at the expense of a corner. Moses had the first opportunity just two minutes into the match as he drove forward on the left flank before cutting inside and shooting. Sadly it summed up the match – a weak toe-poke straight at the keeper, who gathered the ball gratefully. Five minutes the officials got it wrong denying Nigeria and the game the goal that it desperately needed but never got. Haghighi came for the ball and failed to get it. After the scramble Musa scored from close range, but it was disallowed.

The best chance fell to Charlton Athleticʼs Dutch-born Iranian Reza Ghoochannejhad. His header from a corner won by Fulhamʼs Ashkan Dejagah required an acrobatic save from the Super-Eaglesʼ captain – the record-setting Vincent Enyeama.