CURITIBA – Gp F: Iran 0, Nigeria 0
—- It had to happen some time soon. Iran and Nigeria produced not only the first draw of the World Cup but the first goalless draw. There was never much chance of a goal in the Group F game between two teams who looked a class below everyone else.
Nigeria dominated possession but created few chances against a disciplined side managed by ex-Manchester United coach Carlos Queiroz. The Super Eagles’ best opportunities came in the first half when Ogenyi Onazi fired a yard wide before Ahmed Musa went close with a free-kick. At the other end Iran’s Reza Ghoochannejad forced a fine save from Vincent Enyeama.
African champions Nigeria were fancied to go through with Argentina but the pressure is now on them to beat the section’s only European side, Bosnia-Herzegovina, who impressed on their World Cup debut on Sunday despite losing to Leo Messi & Co.
Messi and his men provide the next opposition for Iran in Belo Horizonte on on Saturday.
Their conservative approach, with midfielders Javad Nekounam and Andranik Timotian as an extra line of defence for the backline, frustrated Nigeria.
Stephen Keshi’s side were limited to only a couple of chances despite having the lion’s share of possession.
The first fell to Lazio forward Onazi, who slammed his shot a foot wide before Musa almost caught out goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi with his quick thinking from a free-kick.
Ironically, Iran had the best chance to score despite their only effort on goal coming when Charlton’s Ghoochannejad, who spent much of his career to date playing in the Dutch and Belgian leagues, forced a excellent reaction save from Enyeama, playing in his third World Cup.
Keshi – the mastermind behind Nigeria’s unexpected Cup of Nations win last year – tinkered with his attack after the break by bringing on former Newcastle stalwart Shola Ameobi and fellow forward Peter Odemwingie of Stoke.
The tactical swaps almost paid dividends in the 71st minute, when Ameobi headed wide from eight yards, but he had conceded a foul in the process.
The former Magpie also had a chance in the closing minutes, but on this occasion his goalbound header was easily cleared by Mehrdad Pooladi.
That draw now means Nigeria have not won a World Cup match in nine attempts – the longest streak in the competition.
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz said: ” We played against a great team and it was necessary to play a realistic game. We fought for every ball, every space and played 90 minutes with one thing in our mind. My players need to be congratulated.
“Now it’s Argentina and the most important thing is that everything is open to us.”