CURITIBA, June 17: Nigeria and Iran became the first sides to draw at the 2014 World Cup as they played out a turgid 0-0 draw in Curitiba on Monday.
In stark contrast to the attacking nature of the tournament so far, neither side showed much creativity and the final whistle was met by a cacophony of boos from the mainly Brazilian crowd.
However, their disenchantment didn’t cut much ice with Iran coach Carlos Queiroz.
“I must praise my players, they more than deserved this draw,” said the 61-year-old, who guided his native Portugal to the 2010 World Cup finals.
“The most important thing is that everything is now open to us.”
After a bright start from Nigeria, it was Iran who forced the only meaningful save from Vincent Enyeama as the Lille goalkeeper parried Reza Ghoochannejad’s headed effort.
A point apiece leaves both sides tied for second place in Group F with Argentina leading the way thanks to their 2-1 win over Bosnia and Hercegovina on Sunday.
And Nigeria midfielder John Obi Mikel was left to reflect on a frustrating afternoon which sees their next match with Bosnia take the look of a game that will decide who finishes second in the group
“I think we are all disapponted. The first game of every tournament it is very important to win and we came out to win, but the Iranian team had a good idea of what they wanted to do to stop us playing and stop us creating chances.
“We are still here a draw is not a bad result. We still have two games to play, the next game will be important for us and Bosnia.
“We have to go back to training, improve the things we did wrong and get those right.”
Nigeria boss Stephan Keshi, meawhile, believes his young side became over anxious after they failed to build on a promising start.
“There was a lot of anxiety. My players tried to finish the game in the first 25 minutes, but when the goal didn’t come I think we pushed a bit too hard and frustrations started to come in,” he said.
“I am not happy, but we have to give respect to Iran. They came in, they had their gameplan, they sat back and they did it well.”
Nigeria started by far the better of the two sides and had an effort on goal inside three minutes as Victor Moses’ low shot was comfortably held by Alireza Haghighi.
The African champions had the ball in the net moments later, but Ahmed Musa was adjudged to have fouled Haghighi as they challenged for a high ball before Ogenyi Onazi slotted inches wide with Nigeria’s best opening of the half.
The intensity from Nigeria then dropped and Iran’s only effort on goal in the opening 45 minutes produced the best stop of the game as Enyeama had to leap to his right to parry Charlton Athletic striker Reza’s header to safety from a fine Ashkan Dejagah corner.
With no sign of a breakthrough coming early in the second-half, Keshi introduced Newcastle United’s Shola Ameobi for the ineffectual Moses.
However, Iran then went onto have their best spell in the game with Adranik Timotian firing wildly over when well-placed inside the area.
Nigeria ended the game with four strikers on the field in the search for a winner as Stoke City’s Peter Odemwingie was also introduced.
Nigeria’s abundance of forward players was leaving them more susceptible to the Iranian counter-attack, however, and Dejagah should have done better when he was picked out at the far post but failed to make a proper connection with his header.
The draw leaves Iran still in search of their first ever World Cup victory, whilst Nigeria’s winless streak in the competition extends to nine games stretching back to 1998.