Sunday 25 March 2018

Odemwingie: Tremendous team effort will keep Super Eagles flying high

Nigeria's Peter Odemwingie scores a goal during their match against Bosnia
Nigeria's Peter Odemwingie scores a goal during their match against Bosnia
Bosnia's Tino-Sven Susic kicks the ball clear from Nigeria's Efe Ambrose
Nigeria's Vincent Enyeama celebrates their victory with teammate Ogenyi Onazi

Kevin Garside

NIGERIA'S victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina was not delivered with the butterflies in the stomach that accompanied Ghana's heart-stopping draw with Germany.

Nigeria 1 Bosnia 0

Nevertheless, it marked another significant step in Africa's march towards the knockout stages.

Incredibly, 24 years after the Roger Milla goal celebration for Cameroon, 21 years after the Nigerian debut of the great Jay-Jay Okocha and a decade after the emergence of Samuel Eto'o and Didier Drogba as Champions League icons, we are still talking about African development in world football. This will continue until the day the national federations support leagues that are able to hold onto at least some of their star players, or until an African team wins the World Cup itself.

For the time being the success of any nation – Ghana and Ivory Coast as well as Nigeria in this tournament – is embraced by a continent.

Witness the response of Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi to Peter Odemwingie's winning goal.

"The fighting spirit we showed was good. I never thought that we wouldn't make the round of 16. I have the players."

A point against Argentina will be enough. A win will send Nigeria through as Group F winners.

As Iran showed in stretching Argentina to the limit before losing only to an added-time goal by Lionel Messi, victory is by no means out of reach. Indeed it would be in keeping with the spirit of this World Cup party.

Match-winner Odemwingie was quick to credit his team's work ethic as much as his dexterity in front of goal.

"The goal means a lot to me," he said. "But the win was down to 90 minutes of concentration and effort from my team-mates. The most important thing today was the character. We even enjoyed defending together.

"I don't know anyone who doesn't love this country. Playing for my fatherland is an honour and a pleasure.

"I didn't expect to score a winner in such an important game, I'm very happy. But this was a point the team earned. Right now I'm so high on our team's performance."

Bosnia's second defeat ended a nation's dream at their first World Cup finals, with coach Safet Susic left to rue the many chances they let slip – as well as having a perfectly good goal by Edin Dzeko being disallowed before Nigeria scored.

Like England, Bosnia are caught between the need of a positive result in the final rubber on Wednesday and accelerating fringe players ahead of their European qualifying campaign. Iran will not be easy whatever card Susic plays in Salvador.

"The match unfolded exactly the way I imagined. It was an open game, two teams wishing to win, lots of chances at either end," he said.

"We had a lot of chances and didn't convert any. They had one and scored that goal. I can only congratulate them.

"We knew they would be tough but they surprised us with their speed, their movement. They played attacking football, they really wanted to win. Now they are in second place in the group with a great chance to progress." (© Independent News Service)

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