Super Eagles did what they couldn’t do in their first game at the world cup, and for a while, the smallest nation at this tournament had seemed comfortable with being named favourites to win only their second World Cup fixture in history.
Yet in two moments of brilliance by Leicester City’s Ahmed Musa at the Volgograd Arena, Nigeria broke Icelandic hearts and lifted Argentinian spirits.
A win for World Cup debutants Iceland would have left Lionel Messi and Co on the brink of despair. Now, they stand a chance, and those bags can stay unpacked.
In the first half, Nigeria had not managed a single shot on or off target and footage was circulated showing one supporter falling asleep in the stands. It was that bad.
They woke up in the second. Whatever was said at half time, worked. They attacked, showed some bravery and got the win they needed, thanks to magic Musa.
The Leicester forward’s first goal saw him pluck the ball out of the sky then power it beyond Hannes Halldorsson. His second was a super solo goal as he ran at Iceland’s defence, rounded the goalkeeper then picked his spot, despite two defenders blocking his path on the line. Job done.
Whenever Iceland play, the size of their population is never far from the topic of discussion. For this, around 44million Argentinians joined 186million Nigerians in cheering on the Super Eagles against the 330,000 Icelanders.
Messi and his team-mates may have been watching through their fingers when Gylfi Sigurdsson forced Nigeria goalkeeper Francis Uzoho into an early save from a free-kick. With only three minutes on the clock, Iceland looked in the mood.
Moments later, Sigurdsson tested 19-year-old Uzoho again, though this time his shot was soft. With the goal at his mercy, a man of his quality should have done better.
The Icelanders were fighting for each and every ball. They waited for chances from set-pieces, including long throw-ins that would rival Rory Delap.
Nigeria lacked any form of creativity in the first half. Their football was slow and when going forward, they seemed to run out of ideas.
Chelsea’s Victor Moses was having no joy while John Obi Mikel – known as a defensive midfielder under Jose Mourinho – was used as a No 10 by Nigeria.
Shortly before the break, Sigurdsson swung in a cross, perfectly placing the ball in a dangerous area. All Alfred Finnbogason appeared to have to do was head it home. He timed it wrong, failed to get contact, and the chance was wasted.
At half time, Iceland had managed seven shots and two on target. Nigeria had managed none at all.
The Volgograd Arena was the same venue where England scored a stoppage-time winner. Both sets of supporters were hoping for similar excitement.
Sixteen seconds into the start of the second half, a Nigeria shot. Oghenekaro Etebo charged towards goal and hit a low drive that was collected comfortably by Halldorsson.
It was better from the Nigerians and in the 49th minute, they struck.
From a long Iceland throw, they counter-attacked. Moses sprinted down the right wing, crossed and found Musa, who controlled the ball brilliantly then smashed it beyond Halldorsson.
After their horror show of a first half, Nigeria had managed nine shots in 30 minutes. Their ninth, from Musa, was a wicked curling shot that struck the crossbar from 20 yards.
Less than a minute later, Musa had the ball in the back of the net. He collected a long ball then had the pace to out-run Kari Arnason. He left his marker, side-stepped the goalkeeper, then scored.
In the 80th minute, Iceland wanted a penalty when Tyronne Ebuehi kicked the leg of Finnbogason. Referee Matthew Conger gave nothing at first but then took it to a review. Video technology changed his mind. Sigurdsson stepped up but blazed it over. Their way back into the game was gone.
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