Just four days after settling for a 0-0 tie against Greece, Nigeria created few chances and showed little substance in dropping a 2-1 decision to the United States. Only a late Victor Moses penalty kick, which came after the U.S. had inserted several substitutes, helped keep the Super Eagles from riding to Brazil on a pair of goal-less games.
Stephen Keshi mixed things up with his lineup against the Americans, no doubt in part because of the somewhat short turnaround time between the Greece match and USA match. Emmanuel Emineke was left on the bench, with Shola Ameobi handed a start, while Ahmed Musa sat out with an injury.
The result was a performance that saw little in the way of creativity or offensive cohesion, and far to often devolved into repeated attempts by Moses to take an organized U.S. defense on by himself.
The midfield tandem of John Obi Mikel and Ogenyi Onazi did well to try and keep possession and move the ball around cleanly, but neither provided truly dangerous service to the trio of Ameobi, Moses and Peter Odemwingie. Nigeria finished with a 53-47 edge in possession, and completed 91 percent of its passes, but those advantages didn’t translate in the final third, where the U.S. defense and midfield stayed organized and thwarted every Nigerian chance until very late in the match.
For Keshi, the lack of creative passing in the final third has to be a cause for concern. Neither Mikel or Onazi is a pure playmaker, but the Super Eagles will need them to generate some magic in the attack if the team is going to create chances against the likes of Argentina and Bosnia & Herzegovina.
As disappointing as Saturday’s showing was, it should be noted that Nigeria came into the match on less rest than the Americans, having played on Tuesday while the U.S. had played last Sunday. The absences from the starting lineup of Emenike and Musa clearly limited the offensive options for Keshi, which made it that much tougher to break down a resolute U.S. defense that played a very good game.
If nothing else, Saturday’s match was a good dry run for Nigeria’s World Cup opener against an Iran team that will surely be defensive minded and try to frustrate the Nigerian attack. Iran’s block of six won’t be nearly as tough as the U.S. team’s was, and with Emenike and Musa back for the June 16 opener, the Super Eagles should still be able to create chances and start their World Cup off on a good note.