Russia 2018: Set-piece nightmare haunts Africa (AIPS Media)

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AIPS MEDIA: A certain psychic pig is said to have predicted that Nigeria will make history at the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia by reaching the semi-finals. But after the so called giant of Africa succumbed to a disappointing 2-0 defeat at the hands of Croatia in their opening match on Saturday, even the hope of a place in the last 16 seems to be fading.

As published on Daily Mail, the black micro pig named Mystic Marcus has a 100 per cent track record of predicting sports results according to its owner Juliette Stevens. However, Nigerian fans would appreciate a barbecue more at this time to complement their lowered expectations ahead of the Super Eagles’ remaining group games against Iceland and Argentina.

Nigeria became the third African country to open their World Cup campaign – after Egypt and Morocco – and they ended up churning out the continent’s worst result yet. But all three teams do have two things in common; they were beaten from set pieces and they failed to score (for themselves).

Egypt – Mohamed Salah watched on from the bench on his 26th birthday as the heroics of goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy was brought to nought in the 89th minute of the Pharoahs’ encounter with Uruguay.

Making their third World Cup appearance and first since 1990, Hector Cuper’s lads looked like they had just one plan; secure a draw against the group favourites. But Uruguay snatched a late winner courtesy of Jose Gimenez who headed in Carlos Sanchez’s free-kick with so much power – on a day Luis Suarez was completely off colour.

Morocco – Herve Renard’s Atlas Lions went for victory in their own game against Iran, but failed to convert the numerous chances they got especially in the first half. Then in injury time Sofyan Amrabat conceded a free-kick near the corner flag on the left wing.

Iran’s Ehsan Haji Safi took the free kick, and Morocco substitute Aziz Bouhaddouz, in a bid to clear, dived the ball and headed it into his own net to give Iran their first World Cup victory in 20 years.

Nigeria – The Super Eagles, coached by Gernot Rohr, offered little going forward in their match against Croatia. Then came the own goal from Oghenekaro Etebo in the 32nd minute which further exposed Africa’s set-piece problem. Luka Modric whipped in a corner which got touches from Ante Rebic and Mario Mandzukic before Etebo deflected it beyond his own goalkeeper Francis Uzoho.

As if that was not enough, William Troost-Ekong, few minutes after being booked, carelessly conceded a penalty by manhandling Mandzukic during a corner. Croatia captain Modric dispatched the penalty in the 71st minute to ensure a comfortable lead for the Croat and ultimately ruined Odion Ighalo’s 29th birthday.

Egypt are currently third in Group A while Morocco and Nigeria are bottom in Group B and D respectively.

It is a good thing the continent gets to breathe and maybe reflect after enduring a two-day heartbreak. Tunisia will resume proceedings on Monday when they take on England at the Volgograd Arena while Senegal trade tackles with Poland on Tuesday at the Spartak Stadium. Just maybe, a silver lining would emerge.

Chibuogwu Nnadiegbulam, AIPS Young Reporter, Nigeria


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