Three Points: Drab draw between Iran and Nigeria
Here are three reactions to the first draw of the 2014 World Cup, 0-0 between Iran and Nigeria.
1. Iran happy with first stalemate at World Cup
In a tournament of excitement, goals and thrills, Iran were perfectly happy with the first goalless draw of this World Cup, their first ever clean sheet on the global stage.
It was not a surprise. Team Melli didn't exactly ride to Brazil on a wave of free-flowing open football, conceding just twice in eight games in the final round and scoring just eight (with four coming in one game vs. Lebanon.) This was never going to be a high-scoring thriller, and Iran were never going to be overly concerned about that especially given the fact that the team had lost their opening game at all three of their previous World Cups -- though Netherlands, Yugoslavia and Mexico were all tougher tests than Nigeria.
Despite a nervy start -- and the slightly surprising selection of Alireza Haghighi in goal -- the Persians started to settle midway through the first half and got a foothold in the game. As the minutes ticked by, African frustration mounted and on the hour mark -- the time in the past that the team has tended to crumble -- Iran stayed strong. Carlos Quieroz's men are made of sterner and more disciplined stuff.
Before it all started, Queiroz promised that his men would leave themselves on the pitch and that is exactly what happened in a defensive masterclass. The tireless Reza Ghoochannejhad typified the Iranian attitude and work rate. Here was a man who had scored the goals at crucial times in qualification and, while he didn't get much of a sniff in Curitiba apart from a first half header that turned out to be the best chance of the game, he never stopped running.
In the end, perhaps the one frustration for the millions watching back home was that this was a game that Iran may feel they could have won. All in all though, a draw gives the Asian giants something to play with and they move into the second game with increased confidence.
2. Second place is up for grabs
It may not have been the most exciting match at the World Cup, but it was enjoyed by millions of viewers -- even if the vast majority of them were in Argentina and Bosnia. The group leaders must have sat back in satisfaction as the action, such as it was, unfolded; though there will be a new found respect for the defensive discipline of Iran. The game confirmed that Team Melli are no walkovers, but they are going to struggle to score and Nigeria are not about to give anyone nightmares either.
Even the clairvoyant Pele could predict first place for Argentina in this group, but second place is wide open. There's not much to choose between the three teams hoping to join Messi et al. in the last 16. Bosnia may have lost the opening game against the South Americans but will fancy their chances against a far from impressive Super Eagles in the next match knowing that a win will likely put them in the driver's seat, or at least the passenger seat, heading into the final game with Iran.
If the first round of games in the group were a little underwhelming then the next should be anything but. Keeping out Nigeria is one thing, doing the same against the two-time world champions is going to tax the tactical acumen of Queiroz and the discipline of the players.
3. Nigeria need to improve
Contrary to Albert Einstein's popular myth, if you look up "insanity" in the dictionary, the definition is not listed as doing the same thing time and time again and expecting different results, but Nigeria seemed to have little idea about how to break down a resolute Persian wall.
The number of crosses into the area must have brought a smile to the face of David Moyes, following the anonymous Shinji Kagawa performance for Japan two days previously, though the Scot would not have approved at the execution. The final ball was lacking time and time again and when a weak header from a clubless Shola Ameobi is as good as it gets then you know you have problems.
The team started well but could not take advantage of a nervy Iranian start and, as the game progressed, grew increasingly frustrated. There was little of the usual swagger and skill from the predictable and plodding African champions. The creativity of past World Cups was absent. Where was the excitement of the team that won the Olympics less than two decades ago? Never has the team, and the watching world, missed the talents and flair of the mighty Jay-Jay Okocha more.
Now the game with Bosnia takes on massive proportions, though the Europeans may present a more pleasant opposition than Iran and give them more of a chance to play. In the end, Nigeria's biggest hope may come down to the fact that Argentina could already have qualified by the time the two meet in the final game.