A brilliant brace from speedy Ahmed Musa was the tonic Nigeria needed to defeat Iceland 2-0 at the Volgograd Arena on Friday.
Nigeria went into the match needing a win to boost their hopes of progression and they took confidence from the fact that each of their five World Cup victories had come against European opposition.
It took Iceland just over a minute to earn a free kick around 25 yards from goal and in a central position. Gylfe Sigurdsson’s curling effort was heading towards the top corner but it lacked the power to really trouble goalkeeper Francis Uzoho, who tipped the ball over the crossbar.
Iceland started really brightly. Another chance arrived at the feet of Sigurdsson but the Everton man tried to be too precise from 20 yards and Uzoho made the easy pick.
Nigeria started to settle down and earned a corner but they were very much second best during the early stages.
Iceland had some more joy in the Nigeria half with a long throw causing problems in the final third. Nigeria survived, however. They had some more joy in the Nigeria half with a long throw causing problems in the final third.
Moses attempted to inject some life into Nigeria’s attack but despite some intelligent play on the right, Iheanacho failed to control his pass on the edge of the area and the opportunity is lost.
Back came Iceland with the pressure starting with a long throw from Gunnarsson. The Cardiff City man eventually crosses from the right, forcing Uzoho to tip the ball away, before Bjarnason saw a volley deflected wide.
The Super Eagles made inroads down the left through Ahmed Musa. Nigeria eventually got a cross into the area but Iceland were too big and too strong and comfortably dealt with the danger.
There wasn’t not enough sustained pressure coming from either team. Both teams passed the ball around nicely but that was probably because they were not being troubled.
Nigeria had 67% of possession but in 31 minutes, they were yet to attempt a shot.
Both teams looked lethargic aside from the odd flurry forward. Both managers surely looked to change things at the break.
There were plenty of bottles on the side of the pitch where players had been forced to take on extra water.
Four minutes to the end of the first half, Iceland almost broke the deadlock. Bjarnason who had been his side’s biggest threat reached the byline after nutmegging a defender. However, the Villa man’s low cross avoided everyone and Nigeria survived.
Iceland went close again. Sigurdsson’s set piece was well delivered and Finnbogason met it around 10 yards out but the forward failef to make a proper connection and the ball went wide of the far post.
Both sides went into the break with much work to do in the second half.
Nigeria kept hold of the ball well – and perhaps it was a tactic to tire Iceland out during the second half – but the fact remained that they failed to register a shot on goal in a match that they really needed to win. There was much to ponder for Rohr.
Iceland might have seen less of the ball but the Scandinavian team felt as though they should have opened the scoring. They forced the pace both at the start and the end of the half and when they did, Nigeria struggled to cope.
Unbelievable scenes erupted in the second half. It took Nigeria all of 20 seconds to get a shot off. Oghenekaro Etebo surged forward before seeing a low shot from distance saved by Halldorsson.
The signs looked good that we were going to get a much more entertaining half. Iceland had already responded positively without getting an effort on goal.
Unbelievable! Less sarcasm this time as Nigeria raced in front. The Eagles broke forward down the right and the ball was eventually delivered into the box by Moses, where Musa brought the ball down and drilled a half-volley into the roof of the net from 12 yards. It was great goal.
It was all Nigeria. Wilfred Ndidi tried his luck from distance – he was at least 30 yards out – but his swerving strike was tipped over the crossbar by Halldorsson.
Nigeria’s superior fitness started to tell and they relished the chance of playing on the break.
Moses launched another attack down the right but Moses didn’t need to try a shot from the side of the penalty area. His effort went well wide of the near post. It was a waste of possession.
Gislason received the ball around 40 yards from goal and his only thought was to turn and run towards goal. The Iceland midfielder got an effort away but it was always going over the crossbar.
There was nearly a second for Nigeria. Balogun who will represent Brighton & Hove Albion next season met a corner at the near post but sent a glancing header over the crossbar.
The Eagles hit the woodwork in the 74th minute. The ball was up for Musa on the edge of the area and the Leicester City man cannoned a shot off the crossbar.
It was game over in the 75th minute and it was another stunner from Musa. The attacker surged clear of Arnason, went past Halldorsson and took his time before finding the bottom corner with a player on the line. It was an outstanding goal with Kenneth Omeruo credited with the assist.
Iceland tried to push forward but they were second best all over the pitch.
Nigeria really looked a class act. They showed the confidence to spray the ball around with pace, producing flicks as and when they want.
A penalty kick was awarded to Iceland. Ebuehi tripped Finnbogason inside the penalty area and it was a definite penalty. The referee missed it in open play but VAR came to the rescue.
Sigurdsson sent his penalty over the top of the crossbar. It was a terrible effort.