Greece 2-1 Nigeria
A moment of madness from Nigerian midfielder Sani Kaita gave Greece the ideal platform to mount a comeback against Lars Lagerbäck’s side.
Following Argentina’s earlier 4-1 victory over the Republic of Korea, both sides were in desperate need of a victory to keep their chances of qualification for the next round intact. Despite the pressing need to win, neither side looked likely to threaten in the early stages. Greece’s Katsouranis tried a speculative chip from near the halfway line but his effort was easily saved by Vincent Enyeama, whose performance against Argentina had impressed the footballing world.
Nigeria took the lead in the 16th minute. An inswinging freekick from Kalu Uche eluded an attempted header from Peter Odimwingie before finding its way into the Greek net. Goalkeeper Alexandros Tsorvas was clearly expecting Odimwingie to make contact with Uche’s freekick as he dived away from the cross. Greece were facing an early exit from the World Cup.
Nigeria looked comfortable in the lead. Otto Rehhagel’s side, as they were against South Korea, were reduced to punting long balls forward into their opponents penalty area. These poor passes posed no problems for the Nigerian central defenders, Danny Shittu and Joseph Yobo, who headed each of them away with ease.
The game’s pivotal moment arrived in the 33rd minute. Torosidis and Kaita jostled for the ball after it had gone out for a through in with the latter aiming a kick at the Greek’s thigh. Torosidis collapsed to the floor clutching his face in a shameful attempt to capture the referee’s attention. Despite Torosidis’ clear overreaction, Kaita deserved the subsequent red card. The AS Monaco midfielder could hardly believe it, falling to his knees as the referee produced the card before trudging from the field with his shirt covering his face.
Rehhagel sensed that his side’s chance had arrived. He almost instantly summoned Georgios Samaras from the bench, the Celtic striker replacing Papastathapolous.
Nigeria’s players were visibly rattled by the dismissal of their talented midfielder. Greece on the other hand were buoyant. Far from their uninspired ‘Route One’ football that they had displayed at this World Cup until then, they played sublime high tempo passes along the ground. Salpigidis almost benefited from this newly acquired lust for goals and was played through on goal. He was unable to shoot past the onrushing Vincent Enyeama who was once again the hero for Nigeria, producing a wonderful save.
The Maccabi Haifa ‘keeper was powerless to prevent the inevitable equaliser however. Salpigidis, who had shown some effectiveness after coming on as a substitute against South Korea, fired a low shot towards the bottom right corner. On its path to goal it was deflected by Haruna and ended up high to the left of Enyeama. Salpigidis wheeled away with his teammates as they celebrated Greece’s first ever World Cup goal.
The half time whistle was welcomed by the Super Eagles who huddled on the pitch before jogging purposefully towards the tunnel. Lars Lagerbäck had the difficult task of re-organising his unnerved side.
The Swedish coach’s team talk clearly had little effect on his side as the pattern of the second half bore a vivid resemblance to that of the first. Greece, perhaps out of character, controlled possession for long spells and always seemed the more likely to score the goal that would separate the teams.
Nigeria suffered another blow in the 55th minute. Talented fullback Taye Taiwo pulled his groin as struck an overhit cross into the Greek penalty area. The Marseille stalwart’s combination of defensive knowhow and his intrinsic athletic ability were sorely missed by the Super Eagles over the following 35 minutes or so.
Shittu and Yobo remained steadfast in their defiance of repeated Greek attacks. The corner count was rising rapidly as cross after cross was headed away confidently by the Premier League duo. Yobo was culpable for what proved to be one of the match’s decisive moments, however. His failed attempt at a clearing header fell to Gekas. The superb Enyeama prevented the striker from scoring with an outstanding save with his feat. From the save the ball was pumped forward and Nigeria found themselves in an attacking position with Yakubu Aiyegbeni in a one on one situation with Tsorvas. The Greek goalkeeper matched his Nigerian counterpart’s efforts with a magnificent parry. His block looked to be in vain as it dropped into the path of Chinedu Obasi. Obasi rounding off a tremendously exciting passage of play with a horrific miss from six yards, one which may yet rank as the worst of the tournament.
Enyeama was once again the pillar on which Nigeria’s hopes lay. He produced perhaps his best save of the competition to date as he flew across his goalmouth to deny a header from Gekas.
For all of his wonderful goalkeeping the Nigerian goalkeeper was culpable for Greece’s second and what proved to be the critical goal. A low shot from the edge of the penalty area swerved at the last possible moment and Enyeama failed to adjust his body to meet it firmly. The ball rolled into the path of Torosidis who dispatched the winning goal and prompted an ecstatic reaction from both the crowd and the Greek substitutes.
Enyeama protested the referee’s decision to allow the goal as Yobo was injured in the build-up after clashing heads with Samaras. His complaints went unheeded.
Greece continued to dominate in the closing stages. Nigeria’s best chance at an unlikely equaliser fell to Everton’s Yakubu who curled a shot just to the left of Tsorvas’ goal.
Criticisms of Lars Lagerbäck proved to be valid. The Swedish coach did little to console his side after the fatal dismissal of Kaita. His failure to readjust his formation accordingly was capitalised on by Otto Rehhagel, who had contended that his side would play attractive football if Lionel Messi, Xavi and Iniesta were amongst the members of his squad. His side may not have produced a display of the same calibre as Argentina’s earlier today but the exertions of his squad and their gritty determination to overturn Nigeria were commendable.
Nigeria must now beat the Republic of Korea and hope that Argentina beat Greece for the Super Eagles to have any chance of reaching the Round of 16.