Three quick thoughts on Nigeria's 2-2 draw with South Korea in Group B on Tuesday:
1. With South Korea joining Argentina in the second round, justice has been done in Group B. It was bizarre that Nigeria, without a point in its first two matches, went into this third game still able to qualify -- and ended up needing only one more goal to make it through. The same is true of Greece, wretched in its opening game and a team that felt its best chance to qualify was drawing with Argentina and hoping for favors elsewhere. South Korea has been more consistent in its matches, with its set-piece efficiency (three goals scored from dead-ball situations, including both in this game) and the clever combination play between Park Ji-sung, Lee Chung-yong and Park Chu-young a constant threat. South Korea has qualified for every World Cup since 1986 but this is the first time it has got out of the group stage on foreign soil -and even then it was helped by some glaring misses from Nigeria¹s front-men. So South Korea faces Uruguay in the next round, and will certainly be a difficult opponent for the Group A winners.
2. Three mad minutes for Yakubu, and one for Obafemi Martins. Nigeria was 2-1 down when Yakubu received a pass from the left wing. The Everton striker was unmarked in a central position, two yards from goal, and the goalkeeper was nowhere to be seen. So what did he do? Somehow, he struck the ball with his heel and it slipped wide of the goal. It was an incredible miss, but The Yak showed great composure to score from a penalty to level the scores two minutes later. With 10 minutes left, substitute Obafemi Martins, whose late goal against Kenya in qualifying got Nigeria to South Africa, had a great chance to score but chipped the ball over goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong and wide of the post. He did not know it at the time, but Argentina had just scored against Greece and had Martins' effort gone in and been the winning goal, Nigeria would have made it into the next round.
3. Nigeria coach Lars Lagerback was dealt a rotten hand. The Swede is normally unflappable but he could be forgiven if he vents his feelings after this campaign. It was not just the injury that ruled out John Obi Mikel, his best player, for the tournament, or the fact that his two left backs, Taye Taiwo and Elderson Echiejile, were unable to face South Korea, leaving center back Rabiu Afolabi in that position. Nigeria's campaign was doomed before it began, with a series of friendlies that were canceled, flights missed due to a broken plane and a stampede at one warmup match. Oh, and Lagerback took the job in February but only met his players for the first time in late May. As Steve Bloomfield, author of Africa United: How Football Explains Africa, put it: "Everything that could have gone wrong with Nigeria has gone wrong." When you consider that, Lagerback did pretty well to get the team only one goal short of the next round.
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