By Staff Reporter
Iran and Nigeria looked more like World Cup misfits than magicians on Monday after the first goalless stalemate of a scintillating tournament had Brazilian fans jeering and whistling in contempt.
The bore at the Baixada Arena left both unfancied sides still chasing their first victory at a finals since 1998 and with every prospect of having to wait at least another four years.
Lionel Messi’s Argentina are installed as clear Group F favourites and on Monday’s evidence debutants Bosnia will fancy their chances of joining them as runners-up.
Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi warned on Sunday that the African sides were as good as any in Brazil and could win the tournament, but the small group of travelling fans who made it to Curitiba saw little evidence of that.
Keshi said his side, with Premier League players of the goalscoring calibre of John Obi Mikel and Peter Odemwingie, had dominated but suffered from “nervousness and anxiety” in front of goal.
“We want to score and want to score and it’s not coming. We just have to calm everybody down and take it from there.”
Both teams were booed off the field at the Atletico Paranaense ground by the largely Brazilian crowd of 39,000 after a first half that looked shockingly meagre compared to the goal feasts served up elsewhere.
Iran packed their defence as expected from a team who kept more clean sheets in qualifying than anyone else and Nigeria, with Emmanuel Emenike rarely posing a threat as the main target man for the African champions, squandered their chances.
Long balls to nowhere in particular were sprayed around, passes went straight to opponents – who failed to take advantage – and spectators were in more danger of being hit than the back of the net.
The Super Eagles had the ball in the net after seven minutes in a goalmouth scramble but Ecuadorean referee Carlos Vera, perhaps harshly, ruled it out for a push on goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi.
Ogenyi Onazi then drilled a shot wide two minutes later.
Iran came closest to breaking the deadlock in the 33rd minute when goalkeeper captain Vincent Enyeama produced a fine save to beat out Reza Ghoochannejhad’s header from their first corner of the game.
Nigeria defender Godfrey Oboabona made an early exit from the fray, replaced by former captain Joseph Yobo on the half hour after earlier receiving treatment on the touchline following a heavy tackle.
Next up for Iran is Argentina in Belo Horizonte on Saturday and a defiant coach Carlos Queiroz said everything was still open for his men.
The Portuguese, a former Real Madrid manager and ex-assistant to Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, gave short shrift to the notion that beautiful games depended on goals being scored.
“Sometimes when you play with great attitude, with commitment, with soul, emotions, tensions, it can also be an attractive game,” he told reporters.
“Of course people prefer to see four or five goals, I understand that, but for us we prefer to go home with one point.
“We don’t have players from Liverpool, Chelsea and Lazio in our team. My players they celebrated their hard work, the concentration, the attitude. They deserved to celebrate,” said the Portuguese.