Nigeria through to last 16 despite loss

BRASILIA — Argentina’s Lionel Messi continued his World Cup dual with Neymar by scoring twice in a 3-2 win over Nigeria while Switzerland’s Xherdan Shaqiri got in on the act with a magnificent hat-trick in a 3-0 win over Honduras on Wednesday.

Nigeria scraped through behind already-qualified Argentina, becoming the first African team to reach the last 16 at this tournament, while Switzerland also qualified along with France, who drew 0-0 with Ecuador.

Shaqiri and Messi will cross paths on Tuesday when Argentina meet Switzerland in their round of 16 match in Sao Paulo while France face Nigeria in Brasilia on Monday.

Iran’s hopes ended in a 3-1 loss to World Cup debutants Bosnia, who enjoyed their first win at the finals while the Luis Suarez biting controversy rumbled on in the background.

Two days after Neymar scored twice in Brazil’s 4-1 win over Cameroon on Monday, Messi replied with a brace of his own to leave the pair as joint top scorers at the tournament with four goals.

While Nigeria celebrated qualification, there was less joy for African elsewhere as Ghana became embroiled in a row over appearance fees on the eve of their decisive Group G match against Portugal which needed the intervention of President John Mahama.

In Porto Alegre, Messi lashed in a rebound after three minutes but Nigeria equalised a minute later with a superb finish by Ahmed Musa. But Messi was not to be outdone and curled in a brilliant 20-metre freekick in first-half stoppage time.

Musa levelled again with a clever finish two minutes after the restart but Argentina, who were assured of qualification before kickoff, got a fortunate third eight minutes later when a corner bounced in off the knee of Marcos Rojo.

Argentina finished top of Group F with a maximum nine points, followed by Nigeria (4), Bosnia (3) and Iran (1).

Bosnia, already eliminated after two losses in their first appearance at a major tournament since independence, went ahead in the 23rd minute through Edin Dzeko.

Miralem Pjanic doubled their lead before Reza Ghoochannejhad pulled a goal back for Iran in the 82nd minute and Avdija Vrsajevic restored Bosnia’s two-goal cushion with a fine strike a minute later.

Switzerland defied 88% humidity in steamy Manaus as they went through from Group E.

Shaqiri fired Switzerland ahead in the sixth minute with a long-range effort similar to Messi’s match-winning goal against Iran.

He struck again on the half hour with a clinical finish and rolled in Josip Drmic’s pass in the second half to complete the tournament’s second hat-trick following Thomas Mueller’s effort against Portugal.

It was also the 50th hat-trick in World Cup history.

The Swiss (6 points) took second place in Group E behind France (7) who could not break down 10-man Ecuador, the only one of the sixth South American teams to fall at the first hurdle.

Ecuador had Antonio Valencia sent off for a challenge on Lucas Digne which left the France left back needing treatment in the second half.

Away from the action on the pitch, Luis Suarez’s lawyer flew to Rio de Janeiro to present his defence after the Uruguay striker was accused of biting opponent Giorgio Chiellini during the 1-0 win over Italy on Tuesday.

“We’re polishing off a defence argument,” Alejandro Balbi told local radio in Uruguay, where many people support Suarez and are angry at what they feel is a “manhunt” being orchestrated bAhmed+Musa+xxxy media in Europe.

Fifa said its disciplinary committee would work quickly to investigate the incident, with Uruguay due to play Colombia on Saturday in Rio de Janeiro in the last 16.

The group stage ends on Thursday when Germany and the United States, who have four points each, meet in Recife (1600) where both will qualify with a draw, while Portugal and Ghana, with one point each, clash in Brasilia in the other Group G game.

Algeria (3 points) need a win against Russia (1) in Curitiba (1700) to make sure of qualifying from Group H, although a draw should be enough. South Korea (1) face already-qualified Belgium in Sao Paulo and have only a remote chance of going through.

Ghana were expecting to receive their appearance fees after the Ghana FA promised to send the money by plane.

“We wish to assure the general public following President Mahama’s intervention, the Black Stars are in high spirits,” said the GFA in a statement.

“President Mahama personally spoke to the players to assure them that the money will be paid by Wednesday afternoon which has brought some assurance to the Black Stars.”

Nigeria vs. Argentina: 2014 FIFA World Cup – Group F Match Preview

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Nigeria face Lionel Messi’s already qualified Argentina in Porto Alegre on Wednesday with a first appearance in the last 16 since 1998 tantalisingly within the African champions’ grasp.

Tens of thousands of Messi fans are expected to make the trip up from Argentina to this southern port city for the closing Group F clash where a draw would secure the Nigerians the all important runners-up spot after Peter Odemwingie’s goal against Bosnia-Hercegovina in Cuiaba on Saturday ended the west Africans’ nine-match World Cup winless run.

Defeat to Argentina, who sit top with wins over Iran and Bosnia, could still see Stephen Keshi’s men prolong their stay in Brazil, if Iran fail to beat Bosnia up in Salvador.

And FIFA might even have to get out their straws for the drawing of lots should Iran win 1-0 and Nigeria lose by the same score, leaving the sides inseparable on points, goal difference, number of goals and head-to-head.

Argentina approach the game with their noses put out of joint by media criticism of their performances so far, with only Messi’s goals against Bosnia and Iran saving their blushes.

“Obviously it hurts when you hear people saying that they don’t like you, when people say different things to us,” Real Madrid forward Angel Di Maria said at the weekend.

Messi, who turns 27 on Tuesday, and his teammates have a significant incentive to notch up their third win here and top the table as that would mean likely avoiding Didier Deschamps’s impressive France for a second round date instead with Group E’s runners-up, likely to Ecuador or Switzerland, although Honduras could still snatch that honour.

The two-time former champions may have failed to set the 2014 World Cup stage alight in their opening forays but Messi predicts the Argentine pot is slowly coming to the boil.

“We are not showing what we can do, but with a run of games I think we will get there,” said Barcelona’s four time World Player of the Year.

Messi’s priceless influence was noted yet again by coach Alejandro Sabella after his late coup de grace against Iran.

“All the players contributed to the victory but of course we have a genius who is called Messi. Fortunately he is Argentine – everyone would like to have Messi but it is us who have him.

“Iran made life hard for us but with Messi, everything is possible.”

As Nigeria are surely about to discover.

Wednesday’s rivals have met on three previous occasions at the World Cup, with the Argentines prevailing each time, but Odemwingie says his team can cause Messi and company problems in the Beira-Rio stadium.

Odemwingie recounted a chat with a Brazilian fan on the street who told him that Nigeria would face Brazil in the final.

“I told this guy ‘sure, why not? We’ve got brilliant players, we haven’t reached our full potential yet’.”

The Stoke City player added: “We have a resilient defence, a creative midfield, and with our attack line we could bring problems to any defence in the world,”

Veteran centre-back Joseph Yobo, who will earn his 100th cap if selected again, hailed Messi as “a legend” before quickly adding “but he’s only human” – something Albiceleste supporters might argue with.

After Nigeria’s much-maligned goalless draw with Iran the media knives were out back in Lagos but Keshi said he’d never doubted his team.

“I never thought that we wouldn’t make the Round of 16,” he stated.

On facing the South Americans he added: “We need to work hard for the game against Argentina. I have the players.”

Nigeria get first win at WC since ‘98

Cuiaba, Brazil – Nigeria beat Bosnia 1-0 on Saturday to record their first World Cup finals victory since 1998 and condemn the European team to an early exit in their first appearance at the tournament.

Peter Odemwingie’s 29th-minute goal lifted the African champions to four points from two games, two less than Argentina who they meet in their final Group F match on Wednesday with top spot at stake.

“It’s been 16 years and no wins for our country so we are very excited,” Odemwingie said in a television interview.

“We needed the win. They have some fantastic players so we are happy to bounce back after what our people thought was a poor performance in the first game (a 0-0 draw with Iran).

“Victories affect people in different ways so we are looking up now and if we get into the second round anything can happen. Maybe we will be inspired as we were in the last African Nations Cup.”

Nigeria took the lead when Odemwingie fed Emmanuel Emenike on the right wing and raced into the box to receive the striker’s low return before sweeping the ball under goalkeeper Asmir Begovic.

The Bosnian bench angrily protested that Emenike had fouled captain Emir Spahic as he bundled past him into the box before making his cross.

The tournament newcomers had earlier been denied a goal after a poor offside decision against striker Edin Dzeko after he ran on to a through pass and beat goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama in the 21st minute.

Dzeko had another shot saved by Enyeama but he was well off target with chances later in the half as he fought a lonely battle with the Nigeria defence.

The more experienced Nigerians, playing in their fifth World Cup, created several chances in the first half but were let down by the final pass, poor control or wayward shooting and a couple of smart diving saves by Begovic.

The Bosnia keeper, a team mate of Odemwingie’s at Premier League club Stoke City, made a string of saves, denying Emenike and midfielder Ogenyi Onazi to keep his side in the match in a second half of end-to-end excitement.

Dzeko nearly stole an equaliser for Bosnia, his shot in a goalmouth melee hitting Enyeama’s legs and coming back into play off the post deep into stoppage time.

Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi was rewarded for his adventurous tactics while Safet Susic packed his midfield as he had done in the 2-1 defeat by Argentina and only sent on a second striker in Vedad Ibisevic, whose best headed effort went over the bar, for the last half hour.

Just before the Nigerian goal, Enyeama had parried a shot from midfielder Miralem Pjanic and the ball rebounded into the middle of the box but no Bosnian player was following up to take advantage.

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Bombing leaves Nigerian soccer team in somber mood

CUIABA, Brazil • Stephen Keshi’s Nigeria squad wants more than just three points against Bosnia-Herzegovina Saturday to revive its World Cup campaign.

Saddened by a bomb blast that killed 14 people at a World Cup viewing site in northeastern Nigeria, he said the African champions also want to try to put a “smile on Nigerian faces” by producing a performance to be proud of in their second game in Brazil.

53a51188b7877.preview-620“Our heart goes out to these people,” Joseph Yobo, who is set to captain Nigeria in the Group F match, said Friday. “I think without fans, football would not be enjoyable.

“All we can do is do well for our country.”

The bomb blast occurred in Damaturu, northeast Nigeria, on Tuesday as fans watched the game between Brazil and Mexico. Witnesses said a suicide bomber drove a tricycle taxi packed with explosives into the area.

At least 26 people were wounded in the incident, which took place a day after Nigeria started the World Cup with a disappointing 0-0 draw against Iran. Nigerian authorities are now advising citizens to avoid watching World Cup matches in public places.

Nigeria coach Keshi said the needless deaths had cast a shadow over the team’s World Cup campaign.

“We will try to do everything possible to put a smile on Nigerian faces tomorrow,” he said.

The seven matches played so far in Brazil by the five African confederation teams have only netted one win — courtesy of Ivory Coast against Japan. Once again, Africa is expected to be under-represented in the last 16 in its elusive quest for a first world title.

With a game against Lionel Messi’s Argentina in Porto Alegre to finish off group play, a win over Bosnia-Herzegovina is essential for the Nigerians.

“It’s not so good for the African continent,” Keshi said, “but I think we have one or two teams that are on course to do something” good.

Keshi said with 2010 champion Spain and England already out of contention in the group stage, it’s not just the African teams struggling in Brazil.

“If you look around, it’s not just Africa — the champions of the world, two games they are out,” he said. “There are no more ‘little’ teams in the world.”

Keshi is no stranger to shaking up his lineup following a poor result — and he put the draw with Iran in that category.

Peter Odemwingie, who finished the season well with Stoke in the English Premier League, could start up front alongside Emmanuel Emenike.

Alternatively, John Obi Mikel — a defensive midfielder with Chelsea — could be thrust into a more forward role he used to hold when he was a precocious youth player.

“We know he is one of our key players,” Keshi said. “We demand that he produces, and he gives his all.”

Yobo is likely to be recalled after Godfrey Oboabona left the game against Iran with a foot injury.

The World’s Most Crazed Soccer Nation? Try Nigeria

Nigeria can make a strong case for recognition as the most soccer-crazed country in the world. In recent surveys, the most populous nation in Africa, with the continent’s largest economy, shows an unparalleled interest and participation in the sport. And Nigeria’s World Cup TV ratings would count as dazzling by the standards of the U.S.

According to a 2013 poll by market researcher Repucom, 83 percent of Nigerians report interest in soccer and 65 percent play the sport. Both results put Nigeria atop the 33 nations polled. The U.S., by comparison, has 27 percent interest and 10 percent participation. Here are the top 15 nations by soccer interest:

Repucom surveyed a sample of 1,000 people in each market between the ages of 16 and 69. In Nigeria, surveys were conducted in person. To gauge soccer participation, Repucom spoke only with adults who play any kind of sport at least once a week. In Nigeria, that’s 37 percent of the larger population—meaning that the overall participation rate in soccer is 24 percent. Below are the top 15 nations by participation:

“Nigeria is a football crazy nation,” says Mike Wragg, Repucom’s global head of research. Unlike most large countries, Wragg says, the sport has no real rival. “There isn’t a second sport, like baseball or basketball, that has any kind of tradition at all.”

During the national team’s first World Cup match against Iran on Monday, 17.5 million Nigerians over the age of 15 tuned in to watch, according to surveys by GeoPoll, a Denver company that offers overnight audience measurement in Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Nigeria. Every four hours, GeoPoll asks a sample of Nigerians about their recent TV viewing via text message. The company polls from a panel of more than 2,000 regular media consumers.

Max Richman, GeoPoll’s chief data scientist, says roughly 73 percent of Nigeria’s over-15 population of 100 million watches TV at least once a month. That means nearly a quarter of all adult TV viewers in Nigeria tuned into the World Cup match on Monday at 8 p.m. local time.

In the U.S. the first national team match drew a combined audience of 15.9 million on ESPN and Univision. That number, which includes all viewers over the age of 2, was considered cause for celebration. And Nigeria has a total population (177 million) a little more than half as big as the U.S. (316 million).

Repucom’s Wragg says soccer is a key factor uniting Nigeria, a country with more than 250 ethnic groups and an almost even split between Muslims and Christians. “Whatever the political situation is in Nigeria,” says Wragg, “the one thing that everybody can get behind is the national football team.”

Still, there’s a vocal minority of Islamic extremists who view the sport as a Western decadence. At a public screening in the northern city of Damaturu of the World Cup match between Brazil and Mexico on Tuesday, at least 21 people were killed by a suicide bomber. Such screenings have been banned because of threats by Boko Haram, the same terrorist group responsible for the kidnapping of 276 teenage girls in April.

Still, Nigerians come out to watch. “We just hope that it does not get us,” one Nigerian soccer fan told the BBC, “but it is not enough to make people stop going to viewing centers.”0619_nigeria_soccer_970-630x420

Nigeria looking for boost against Bosnia-Herzegovina

THE bomb attack that killed at least 21 people watching a World Cup game in Nigeria has cast a sombre shadow over the African champions’ build-up to Saturday’s date with Bosnia-Herzegovina in Cuiaba.

Tuesday night’s bomb exploded in the midst of a crowd watching Brazil play Mexico on a giant screen in Damataru, capital of Yobe state.

Stephan Keshi’s men observed one minute’s silence at training on Wednesday as team media officer Ben Alaiya predicted the atrocity would add further motivation for a strong performance at the Arena Pantanal.

Not that any extra incentive is needed as a win would push them on to four points and in a solid enough position to secure a ticket to the knockout stages as runners-up to likely table toppers Argentina.

They will have a clearer idea of what’s required before kick-off on Sunday morning (AEST) with Iran tackling Argentina earlier in the day.

Nigeria stand on one point, the reward for their part in the much-maligned goalless stalemate with Iran which left them without a World Cup win in nine matches.

One certitude about Saturday’s game is that defeat for Bosnia would mean an early trip back to Sarajevo after their concluding first round fixture, against Iran, next week.

Bosnia were stumped by Lionel Messi who set up the opening goal and then conjured up a superb second in Argentina’s 2-1 win.

Coach Safet Susic has vowed that his men will step up a gear after a tactical move not to go all out against the South American giants.

“It was not a key match. We could afford to lose so long as it wasn’t a thrashing,” said the former world class attacking midfielder for Paris Saint-Germain and the former Yugoslavia.

“That is what we did. I hope that Argentina will win their other two games, because if they do then the second place spot will be between Iran, Nigeria and Bosnia.”

He intends shaking things up in attack, with Vedad Ibisevic, scorer of Bosnia’s goal in the first game, joining Eden Dzeko for the remaining two group matches.

“We couldn’t afford to play with two strikers against Argentina, who have so many attacking midfielders,” Susic explained.

Keshi meanwhile will be anxious to see his Super Eagles take flight in Brazil at the second attempt, not least to prove former captain Jay-Jay Okocha’s criticism of him after the Iranian game was unfounded.

“This was a must-win for Nigeria but we did not take it,” Okocha, who netted 14 times during a 13-year international career, railed.

“We did not do enough in terms of our tactical play. Keshi did not do enough work on the team. The tactical play of Eagles was so bad, I hold Keshi responsible for this.”

The man himself countered: “Just because we didn’t win people think we played badly. I don’t think we played badly, it was just that we didn’t score the goals we needed.”Nigeria football team

The veteran defender insists a dispute over World Cup bonuses for the squad was handled amicably with the nation’s football association

The veteran defender insists a dispute over World Cup bonuses for the squad was handled amicably with the nation’s football association

Nigeria captain Joseph Yobo insists the country’s players did not hold their FA to ransom over World Cup appearance fees.

The Super Eagles opened their Group F campaign with a goalless draw against Iran, but speculation about bonus payments continues to rumble on.

Members of the squad will reportedly receive 30 per cent of the money given to the Nigerian Football Federation [NFF] for participation in the first round.

“No one held Nigeria to ransom,” the 33-year-old told “We are ready to play for Nigeria even if we don’t get paid for that [appearance fees].

“Look at the players who are playing in Nigeria, this money is a life changer for them. This will change [things for] their families. They will be happy because they worked hard to get here.

“This [money] won’t change my life, but as the captain of the team I know what the players deserve.

“Most countries have appearance fees and this was what we spoke about.

“It [the meeting with the NFF about appearance fees] was peaceful and quiet, there was no problem, but at the end of the day it came out differently in the media.

“They should have addressed this much earlier than when it was almost game time. Why did they wait till the last minute?” he asked.

Nigeria’s next fixture is against Bosnia-Herzegovina on Saturday.Bildschirmfoto 2014-06-20 um 00.38.50

Oboabona out of Bosnia match

Nigeria’s Godfrey Oboabona will miss Saturday’s World Cup game against Bosnia-Hercegovina because of injury.

The Rizespor defender, 23, hurt his ankle and was taken off on a stretcher in the first half of Nigeria’s opening 0-0 draw against Group F rivals Iran.

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“According to a scan result, he won’t be fit to face Bosnia,” team spokesman Ben Alaiya told BBC Sport.
“Luckily, there’s no fracture, so we expect him to be ready for the last game against Argentina.”
African champions Nigeria were fancied to go through to the next round along with Argentina.
But the pressure is now on them to beat the group’s only European team Bosnia-Hercegoivina, who impressed on their World Cup debut on Sunday in their 2-1 defeat by Lionel Messi’s side.
Nigeria’s draw with Iran means the Super Eagles have not won any of their past nine World Cup matches.

Explosion at Nigeria venue for World Cup viewing killed at least 14

Police Assistant Superintendent Nathan Cheghan told the Associated Press that 26 people were wounded in the attack Tuesday night in the town of Damaturu. There were fears the number of dead could rise, with many serious injuries reported.Bildschirmfoto 2014-06-19 um 17.40.24

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing in the Yobe state capital as people watched Brazil play Mexico, but suspicions fell on the Islamist militia Boko Haram or a similar Islamist splinter group.

The police commissioner for Yobe state, Sanusi Ruf’ai, said the attack happened about 8:15 p.m., shortly after the soccer match began.

Initial reports suggested the attack was suicide blast in a three-wheel rickshaw taxi. Authorities later reported that a vehicle loaded with explosives may have been abandoned near the venue.

The bomb blast follows several similar attacks in northern Nigeria in recent months. Just over two weeks ago, 14 people were killed in a bomb attack on a bar in the town of Mubi in Adamawa state, where people were watching soccer. In May, three people were killed at a soccer viewing venue in Jos, the capital of Plateau state. In April, two people died when gunmen opened fire on a soccer-viewing venue in Yobe state.

In soccer-mad Nigeria, young men often crowd into bars, video halls and mass open-air soccer-screening venues to watch games live on large screens. For many who lack cable TV at home, it is the only way to see World Cup games and other major soccer matches live.

But Nigerian authorities have warned that venues screening soccer matches could be targeted by extremists who see the game as un-Islamic.

Authorities in Adamawa and Plateau states and the Federal Capital Territory recently banned screenings of World Cup matches in public venues because of the risk of attacks. Police in other areas have warned owners of such venues to take extra security precautions.

Yobe, Borno and Adamawa states have been under a state of emergency for more than a year as the Nigerian government grapples with an insurgency that has killed thousands of people in recent years, shut down schools and caused thousands of farmers to desert their land and villagers to evacuate their homes.

Boko Haram kidnapped more than 300 girls from Chibok village in April, and the ensuing campaign for their release, under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, focused global attention on the militant group.

Boko Haram’s attacks have increasingly targeted civilians. In an attack on a boarding school in Yobe state in February, dozens of schoolboys were shot in their beds, burned alive or had their throats cut. Hundreds of schoolteachers have been killed in northern Nigeria since last year. Markets and bus stations have been hit as well.

The group, fighting for an Islamic state across Nigeria, opposes Western education and culture, which it sees as the products of corrupt infidels. The insurgency has deepened divisions between the mainly Muslim north and mainly Christian south in Africa’s most populous nation, which has about 170 million people.

Soccer-viewing venues make easy targets for terrorist groups in Africa. During the World Cup in 2010, more than 70 people died in an attack by the Somali terrorist group Shabab in the Ugandan capital of Kampala. The U.S. Embassy in Kampala recently issued a warning to avoid crowded soccer-viewing venues in Uganda because of the risk of attack.

In an attack by gunmen Sunday in the Kenyan town of Mpeketoni, people watching a World Cup match at a local venue were among the victims. About 60 people died in attacks Sunday and Monday on Mpeketoni and nearby villages, not far from the tourist area of Lamu on the northeastern Kenyan coast.

Both Kenya and Somalia have faced attacks by the Shabab because of their military presence in Somalia, although Kenyan authorities blamed local political networks for the attacks this week.