Nigeria’s quest for a berth in the knock-out stage at the ongoing World Cup finals in Brazil suffered a setback last night, following the unimpressive goalless draw the country played with Iran in Curitiba.
Nigeria and Iran also set the dubious record of being the first countries whose match ended in a stalemate in Brazil 2014. All other previous 12 matches produced 41 goals and ended with decisive victories.
But more telling for the Super Eagles was that the jinx of winless outings at World Cup tournaments was further extended since their last victory at the France 98 finals when the team beat Bulgaria at Parc de Prince Stadium in Paris.
Nigeria, however, dominated possession in the Group F fixture at Arena da Baixada – particularly in the first half – but a disciplined defensive performance from the Iranians ensured the spoils were shared.
After a handful of early chances, the Super Eagles could not make the most of their chances, resulting in failed attacking moves in the final minutes of the match.
Iran, whose best chance to score came courtesy of a first-half header from Reza Ghoochannejad, saw their persistence pay off as they held on for a point.
Argentina now lead the group by three points after their 2-1 win over Bosnia and Herzegovina on Sunday.
Fenerbahce striker, Emmanuel Emenike, was the sole striker, but it was winger Victor Moses who got the first shot at goal, drilling a tame effort comfortably into the arms of goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi.
The Africa Cup of Nations champions scored a goal from a corner in the 8th minute, but the whistle had already been blown as Haghighi was somewhat fortuitously awarded a free kick after a collision with midfielder John Obi Mikel.
Subsequently, Iran struggled to get a foothold in the match, and Ogenyi Onazi was next to fire a warning signal by sending the ball dribbling wide off the left-hand upright.
But for all their possession, Nigeria did not work the Iranian defence hard enough, forcing Coach Stephen Keshi to bring in Joseph Yobo for Godfrey Oboabona on the half-hour mark after the defender had earlier landed awkwardly in an aerial challenge with Ghoochannejad.
Iran, growing in confidence as the half progressed, almost punished their opponents’ profligacy four minutes later when a Ghoochannejad header from a corner forced Vincent Enyeama into a reflex save.
Keshi introduced Shola Ameobi seven minutes into the second half in a bid to give Nigeria more cutting edge in the final third, but it continued to be a tale of frustration as clear-cut chances continued to elude his side.
Iran had never previously kept a clean sheet at the World Cup finals, and their defensive approach drew whistles and heckles from fans in the green and white Nigeria.
Goal scoring chances became an increasingly rare occurrence and Nigeria will see this as a wasted chance with matches against Bosnia and Herzegovina and Argentina to follow.
Iran’s next fixture is against group leaders Argentina on Saturday.