By Onochie Anibeze, in Brazil
First was the atmosphere at the magnificent Estadio Beira Rio, Porto Alegre.
Any Brazilian asked who, between Nigeria and Argentina, he will easily say Nigeria.
The rivalry between Argentina and Brazil is bitter and has been on for long. Brazilians would always be happy to see Argentina fall and vice versa. And Brazilians wished the Eagles well yesterday. But they were very few in the stadium. Argentines took over the stadium.
They sang, danced and cheered. Their cheers were deafening. It was simply amazing. Eagles had to be strong to survive the play of the Argentines and the overwhelming crowd. That their team had won two matches and qualified did not matter to them. What mattered was victory.
Stephen Keshi had lined out the same team that started the match against Bosnia, respecting the saying that you don’t change a winning team.
The game started with Argentina showing no sign of relaxation as a team that had already won two matches and qualified. Inspired by the charged atmosphere, they charged on the Eagles and scored in the third minute. Ambrsoe Efe was missing in his right back position after running forward. Angel Di Maria exploited the space Efe provided him and ran deep before hitting a shot that Vincent Enyeama parried. It hit the post and the rebound Lionel Messi clinically finished up.
The Argentines were still celebrating the goal when Michael Babatunde ran deed and provided a pass to the left for Ahmed Musa who cut in and curved the ball into the net for Nigeria’s equaliser.
Eagles thereafter enjoyed some reprieve but Argentina continued to push forward, creating chances and taking shots that harassed the Eagles defence. Enyeama had to save two long range shots and showed how reliable he could be.
But Argentina appeared to be capitalising on the slow game John Obi Mikel was playing in the midfield. Gonzalo Higuain, Federico Fernandez, Sergio Aguero with Messi kept on attacking and outplaying Mikel, Onazi and Babatunde in the midfield. Osaze was forced to be dropping deep and was doing a good job.
Shortly after Enyama parried into corner a curling Messi’s free kick, It did not dawn on the Eagles that they needed to avoid fouls deep in their half. Another foul and another free kick followed. Messi was this time merciless. He curled the ball into the same corner Enyeama had saved but the Nigerian keeper had no answer this time.
The goal pained the Nigerians in the stadium who were becoming confident that the Eagles could hold Argentina. It was in the stoppage time of the first half. Even the fans of Argentina were no longer as loud as they were in the beginning. Although Eagles were more under pressure, they seemed to be surviving, putting more than many had expected. They impressed to a reasonable extent.
As the Eagles moved into the dressing room, the news that Bosnia were leading 1-0 against Iran was pacifying.
And Ahmed Musa equalised superbly on resumption of the second half. But Argentines know how to make use of set pieces. Marcos Rojo flicked in a corner when Eagles defenders lost a little concentration. It all happened within ten minutes of the second half.
Ricardo Alveres came in for Messi and Okechukwu Uchegbu came in for injured Babatunde in the 65th minute. It was at this stage that Bosnia scored the second goal against Iran and Tijani Ahmed, a Nigerian journalist roared “we are in the second round and Eagles needed a tough match like this to prepare them for the second round.”
Uche Nwofor came in for Osaze Odemwingie and there were audible grumbles among Nigerian journalists, who felt that Osaze was having a good game. As at 84th it was 3-1 for Bosnia and Nigeria were coasting home for a second round were they would face France, a strong team but which are beatable.
The Nigerian team here have shown that they can still go further.