Salpingidis 44, Torosidis 71
Uche 16, Kaita sent off 33
Greece scraped to victory over 10-man Nigeria to keep alive their World Cup prospects, leaving the Super Eagles needing a win from their final match in Group B to have any hope of progression. Kalu Uche had given Nigeria the lead before they had Sani Kaita sent off, and the Greeks cashed in with goals from Dimitrios Salpigidis and Vasileios Torosidis.
Nigeria took the lead after 15 minutes when Kalu Uche’s deep freekick eluded everyone and found its way into the net. Keeper Alexandros Tzorvas appeared to anticipate a flick by Peter Odemwingie, but there was no such touch, and Tzorvas was left wrong footed and helpless. Nigeria were looking comfortable but their match was turned on its head in the 33rd minute when Kaita saw red for a petulant and needless kick at Torosidis. Greece responded immediately, bringing on an extra striker in Georgios Samaras, and they found themselves level before half time. Minutes after Enyeama had saved at the feet of Salpigidis, the Greek winger shot from 20 yards and it took a wicked deflection off Lukman Haruna and looped into the net. Moments earlier, Haruna had cleared off the line after Samaras had improvised a close range attempt on goal after a corner which caused disarray in the box.
The game really sprung into life on the hour mark, with great opportunities squandered at both ends. First, Enyeama made an excellent save after Joseph Yobo had given the ball straight to Gekas 12 yards from goal. From the resultant breakaway, Yakubu Aiyegbeni forced a save from Tzorvas before Chinedu Obasi offered a lame attempt at the rebound with the goal gaping. Enyeama was called upon again in the 68th minute, flying across his line to tip away Samaras’ goal-bound header. After a superb performance to go along with his outstanding display against Argentina in the Super Eagles’ first game, Enyeama blotted his copy book only minutes later. Alexandros Tziolis shot through a crowded area from 25 yards and Enyeama botched a fairly routine save, spilling the ball into the path of Torosidis, who poked home. Georgios Karagounis twice came close to adding a third for the Greeks from distance, whilst Yakubu fired wide at the other end from 25 yards.
It is hard to imagine many neutrals who would have been all that dismayed Greece had exited the World Cup early. It looked like they were going to crash out with two straight defeats until Kaita’s red card changed the game. Greece are quite possibly the only side who could name three centre-forwards and still be extremely reluctant to attack – as seen against Korea Republic. They then opted to field just one striker for a match they had to get something from to stay in the competition. If the Greeks were negative with three forwards, what would they be like with one? For the 33 minutes during which they were playing against a Nigerian side with a full compliment of players, there was no willingness to get forward at all – even after they had fallen behind after 15 minutes. Kaita’s sending off offered them a lifeline that they grabbed with both hands, but the lack of interest in attacking against 11 men beforehand was startling.
Kaita’s dismissal for violent conduct was one of the most inexplicable since David Beckham’s red card in 1998 against Argentina. Quite why he felt the need to raise his foot and have a kick at the knee of Torosidis only he knows. The ball went out for a routine throw in and Torosidis did nothing to provoke such a reaction. It was a petty kick for a pettier reason and left his side facing the best part of an hour a man short. Nigeria side were looking very comfortable, without having to get out of second gear at the time, and there is no question that the dismissal was the point at which the match began to slip away from the Super Eagles. Whilst Obasi really should have doubled Nigeria’s tally just after the hour-mark, the majority of chances fell to their opponents, who took full advantage of being a man up.
It is a shame for Enyeama that his error has cost Nigeria a valuable point. He has been the standout goalkeeper in a World Cup in which more keepers have done their reputations harm than good. After another string of fine saves and confident handling, he failed to deal with what was a fairly tame shot, although he might plead that he saw it late with the penalty area crowded. If Nigeria want to look for a scapegoat for this defeat, it can only really be Kaita, as Enyeama had kept them level and without him there would have been no point to lose by that stage.
The situation in Group B does not favour Greece , despite this win. Argentina are still not technically guaranteed a place in the next round and so will not be able to rest their star names in their final match against the Greeks. Few would bet against an Argentine victory, leaving Korea Republic and Nigeria with the chance to progress. If Greece do lose to Argentina, then the South Koreans would only need a draw against the Nigerians to progress. A win for Nigeria would see the group decided on goal difference, which will likely favour the Nigerians. The Greeks must better the Korea Republic result to guarantee their place in the Round of 16. All in all, a complicated final matchday awaits the teams in Group B next Tuesday.
Greece – Tzorvas – Papadopoulos, Vyntra, Torosidis, Kyrgiakos – Papaststhopoulos (Samaras, 36), Tziolis, Karagounis (C), Katsouranis – Salpingidis, Gekas (Ninis, 80)
Nigeria – Enyeama – Yobo (c), Taiwo (Echiejile, 55; Afolabi, 80), Shittu, Odiah – Uche, Kaita (sent off, 33), Haruna, Etuhu – Yakubu, Odemwingie (Obasi Ogbuke, 46)