Three Points: Nigeria bounce Bosnia
CUIABA, Brazil -- Here are three reactions to Nigeria versus Bosnia-Herzegovina in Group F.
1. This time for Africa
Cuiaba's Saturday night show could not match the earlier pyrotechnics of the Euro-African clash between Germany and Ghana, but this time an African team emerged with victory. Peter Odemwingie's first-half goal made it a second win in nine for Africa. Slowly but surely, after a disastrous start, the continent is recovering its composure in Brazil.
There was drama here too, eventually. In extra time, Edin Dzeko found the space to smash a shot that Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama's deflected off his legs and onto the post. Moments earlier, a header from Dzeko had gone straight at the Nigerian goalie.
Nigeria versus Bosnia-Herzegovina is a fixture that will almost certainly only be played at the World Cup. It's almost a certainty that these teams will never face each other in Cuiaba, the humid scene of their inaugural meeting, ever again.
June 21 is the winter solstice in Mato Grosso, and the sun came down at 5:20 p.m. to lower the temperature to a positively Baltic 24 degrees Celsius, after much of the day had been spent at a stifling 34. Woe to Japan and Colombia, who have to play their final group game here in late afternoon sun next week. Visitors from cooler climes can only imagine what life can be like in this city when summer comes around.
As has happened to so many of their European cousins, Bosnia-Herzegovina wilted in the heat, and their campaign is dead in a matter of six days. Their real achievement was reaching the finals itself. Perhaps Russia 2018 or the next Euros will suit them better. Safet Susic's team performed well below the level they had against Argentina, and though they had cause to be outraged with the officiating of a wrongly disallowed Dzeko goal, a one-dimensional approach didn't bear fruit.
Again, poor refereeing will assume centre stage in the postmortems, but Bosnia-Herzegovina's failings beyond that moment were their true problem.
Susic's prematch words had promised "goals galore" and then proclaimed Dzeko as important a player as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The Manchester City man is a fine striker -- especially in his club's recent Premier League success -- but there is far too much reliance on his producing a piece of individual skill.
Nigeria's greater experience at this level and in this country -- they played in last season's Confederations Cup -- showed. Until late, there was not nearly enough conviction in Bosnia's attacking, and Joseph Yobo marshalled a stout defensive effort.
2. Nigeria end long wait
Lunchtime viewing must have lifted Nigerian spirits when it became clear that Messi and Argentina were finding it almost as difficult to breach the Iranian defence as Stephen Keshi's team had in Curitiba. However, the need to win a first World Cup match since beating Bulgaria 1-0 in France in 1998 was pressing. A deep talent pool has too often disappointed.
Africa's current champions have stability under Keshi, a coach who exudes calm and good humour. They also have the ability to attack at pace. Fenerbahce's Emmanuel Emenike is a capable line leader who brings colleagues into play. The local crowd were on the Africans' side and were getting their money's worth from an opening first half of domination. Had there been more discipline with offsides or better final balls, Nigeria might have been out of sight.
When their goal did come, it was a run down the right-hand channel by Emenike that played provider. Bosnian skipper Emir Spahic claimed a foul, but in truth he was beaten for power; he had also thrown an elbow. A simple ball to Odemwingie gave the one-time West Brom man a chance to score, and he did not pass it up. In pressing on a noticeable weak point, Nigeria took the points.
The second-half performance was more circumspect, which was understandable given the circumstances of overturning that long wait. That said, Nigeria made frequent inroads into Bosnian territory. Odemwingie and Emenike pressed from the front and forced frequent mistakes.
"Ni-ger-ia," sang the locals. They were backing the better team, the one with a genuine chance of making the latter stages for the first time in 16 years. Argentina are already through, and a draw between the two next week in Porto Alegre would take both beyond Group F.
3. Bosnia-Herzegovina heading home
As with all teams from former Yugoslav republics, the Bosnians are a marriage of silk and steel. The passing is precise, while the tackling can be fierce. Haris Medunjanin showed off both facets in the early stages and served as a springboard for a couple of attacks, then was booked for a foul on Ahmed Musa. That gave Odemwingie the chance to go close with a free kick.
Susic's team were slow out of the blocks and left it too late to fight back. They always found it difficult to compete with the speed and power of the Nigerians.
However, when Dzeko hit the back of the net, they were wronged. Their rage might last for years. Zvjezdan Misimovic's pass was weighted perfectly, and the Manchester City striker converted with ease, only for an errant flag to be waved by a Kiwi assistant referee.
Having found that combination once, the Bosnians struggled to reprise it. Miralem Pjanic took too much of a creative backseat. The Roma man found himself bogged down in the midfield morass behind the frontline as Nigeria's power blew holes in Bosnia's central areas. John Obi Mikel and Ogenyi Onazi ruled the roost there.
The mysterious absence of Sead Kolasinac was a leading problem, in that Senad Lulic, his replacement, is a winger by trade and ill-equipped to deal with Nigeria's attacks down that flank. If the Bosnians have a prime weakness, it is a susceptibility to pace. Spahic looked lacking in condition, while Asmir Begovic, so consummate a keeper in England, looked to be struggling with the ball's flight, as Igor Akinfeev had done for Russia at this venue earlier in the week.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.