Thursday, May 29, 2014

Nigeria share goals with Scots

International Friendly

Nigeria 2:2 Scotland

Craven Cottage, London

A bizarre pre-match story had involved London's Metropolitan Police highlighting a possible attempt by Far East gamblers to fix this match, but in the end there was nothing fishy by the river as Scotland and World Cup qualifiers Nigeria shared an entertaining 2:2 draw.

With Nigeria's second string looking to play themselves into manager Stephen Keshi's final 23 for Brazil and Scotland looking for some valuable experience ahead of their Euro 2016 campaign in the autumn, as well as two boisterous ex-pat communities of London ready to party, there was always the prospect of a lively 90 minutes.

Gordon Strachan's men looked the slicker of the two teams from the kick-off; Scotland were fielding a strong starting eleven while Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi was auditioning players for his final 23-man squad.

But it was the Scot with the Nigerian father, Ikechi Anya, who caught the eye early on. Flattened by Nigeria's Kunle Odunlami in under two minutes, the quick and clever Watford winger almost got his name on the scoresheet two minutes later by firing a shot onto the far post from an acute angle.

Nigeria were slow out of the blocks and went behind after ten minutes from a set piece. Shaun Maloney and Anya combined to tee-up James Morrison from a left-wing corner and Charlie Mulgrew tipped his succeeding blast looping high into the corner of the net.

The Scots were worth their lead. Their formation was solid and balanced, their passing sharper and terrestrial and in Steven Naismith they had a livewire striker. Nigeria had more height so were using more of an aerial approach, but a host of crosses lumped into the box and snatched attempts at finding killer balls had led to a disjointed final third of the field for the African champions.

Strikers Shola Ameobi & Uchebo were drifting around posing no obvious threat, yet against the run of play Nigeria drew level in the 41st minute. Uchebo received the ball in the middle and advanced without challenge to let rip, a deflection off the unlucky Grant Hanley wrongfooting McGregor.

The second half took little time to catch fire, as McGregor tipped away a close range Ameobi shot before Scotland regained the lead.

Raiding right-back Alan Hutton was allowed too much space to sneak into the box and the Aston Villa man whipped a ball across the goalmouth which took a couple of deflections before billowing the onion bag.

Nigeria's support cheered loudly when West Brom's Peter Odemwingie took the field in the 55th minute and after Chelsea's Victor Moses joined him up front six minutes later, the Super Eagles at last had some skilful footwork to add to their strong and direct approach.

Yet still the Scots pressed. The Tartan Army cheered just after the hour mark as the ball was again in the Nigerian net but the almost identikit goal was disallowed for a foul. Scotland were denied a third again in the 67th when substitutes George Boyd and Chris Martin combined for Martin to pull the trigger, only to see his snapshot draw an equally reflexive save from Nigerian custodian Austine Ejide.

As medleys of 'Flower of Scotland' boomed out from the Hammersmith Road end, Strachan's men looked all set to register their fourth successive away win before Uche Nwofor capitalised on fatal defensive hesitation to lash in an equaliser in the final minute.

Nigeria: Ejide, Yobo, Echiejile, Obi (Igiebor 53'), Egwuekwe, Odunlami (Emuobo 75'), Uzoenyi (Moses 61'), Ameobi (Nwofor 62') Uchebo (Odemwingie 55'), Gabriel, Babatunde (Oduamadi 66').

Scotland: McGregor, Hutton, Robertson (Forsyth 77'), Greer, Hanley, Morrison (Boyd 63'), Mulgrew, Brown, Naismith (Martin 45'), Maloney, Anya (Whittaker 84').

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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