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World Cup 2014: Iran v Nigeria Match Preview as Iran and Nigeria Look to End 16-year Wait for a Win

World Cup 2014:

Iran v Nigeria Match Preview as Iran and Nigeria Look to End 16-year Wait for a Win

• Group F opponents both winless since France 1998

• Chelsea’s Mikel John Obi given creative licence for Nigeria

A look ahead to Monday night's group stage match between Iran and Nigeria

Iran and Nigeria have something in common going into their World Cup clash. When they meet on Monday at the Arena da Baixada, both teams will be attempting to win their first match in the World Cup finals since France 1998. With Argentina the clear favorites in Group F, Iran and Nigeria are expected to compete with Bosnia-Herzegovina for second spot.

Fenerbahce's Emmanuel Emenike, seen training in Campinas, will be one of Nigeria's main scoring threats in Brazil. Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

Nigeria are hoping to extend their undefeated streak in international matches against Iran, in a fixture where there is no room for error as World Cup favourites Argentina and wildcards Bosnia-Herzegovina are also featuring on the same group.

 

The Super Eagles lost Monaco left-back Elderson Echiejile with a torn hamstring injury in a friendly against Greece. This however is not the end of manager Stephen Keshi’s problems as there have been disputes between the players and the Nigerian Football Federation over appearance fees. Nevertheless, Keshi has got the rest of the roster available on his disposal and will be looking for Chelsea’s Victor Moses and John Obi Mikel to pull plenty of weight on midfield and the flanks.

 

Iran manager Carlos Queiroz is leading perhaps the competition’s biggest underdogs but is fortunate enough to have no problems regarding injuries. Charlton Athletic’s Reza Ghoochannejhad will undoubtedly be the team’s target man and much will be expected by Fulham’s Ashkan Dejagah on the wings. The experience of former Osasuna midfielder and team captain Javad Nekounam could prove to be extremely valuable.

 

Though Nigeria are often considered a powerhouse of African football, the Super Eagles have not won at the World Cup since defeating Bulgaria in a group match 16 years ago. Since then, they have endured two fairly dismal World Cup campaigns, including in South Africa in 2010, notching up a grand total of two points.

 

That is not good enough for a team many have touted as the most likely to become Africa’s first World Cup winners. After all, Nigeria have pedigree on the global stage, having defeated Argentina to win the Olympic gold medal in Atlanta in 1996.

 

The current African champions have got back on track over the past couple of years under the coach, Stephen Keshi, who played for Nigeria in the 1994 World Cup and has helped them to recover some of the flair and power that marked his country’s football in the 1990sKeshi appears unconcerned that his team failed to win any of their three pre-tournament friendlies. “My concern is how I’m going to bring my players to understand the style of play, to bring them back into the rhythm that we are used to, because it’s a long time we were apart,” he said.

 

Keshi has a number of hugely experienced players at his disposal, many of whom play in Europe. Much could hinge on the form and fitness of the Fenerbahce striker Emmanuel Emenike, who has been prolific for Nigeria since his debut in 2011. Behind Emenike, Mikel John Obi has licence to play more creatively than he does for Chelsea. And in goal Keshi can call upon Lille’s Vincent Enyeama, one of the most experienced goalkeepers in the tournament.

 

Iran’s last victory at the World Cup was against the USA in one of the great geopolitical clashes. Their one appearance in the finals since, in Germany 2006, yielded a solitary point. Despite haphazard preparations that involved a dearth of friendlies and financial constraints, Iran will be no pushovers. With Carlos Queiroz, a former coach of Real Madrid and Portugal, at the helm, Iran will be difficult to break down.

 

To bolster the attack, Queiroz has convinced Reza Ghoochannejhad and Ashkan Dejagah to represent the country of their birth. Both played key roles in Iran’s late charge to clinch top spot in an Asian qualifying group that included the regional powerhouse South Korea.  Ghoochannejhad, often known as “Gucci”, is a speedy forward who has been prolific for Iran, scoring 10 goals in 14 appearances since Queiroz convinced him in 2012 to opt for “Team Melli” rather than Holland, whom he had represented at youth level. And Dejagah has similarly impressed since he opted for Iran instead of Germany.

 

Iran will be led by Javad Nekounam in what is probably going to be his final World Cup. The 33-year-old is the team’s talisman and now plays in a deeper position. Much of the rhythm revolves around Nekounam, whose task is to break up opposing attacks and launch his team on the counterattack. Despite the disappointment of 2006, Nekounam’s experience from that tournament could prove invaluable.


STATS…

Iran manager Carlos Queiroz was Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant at Manchester United for a total of five years and also took over at Real Madrid for just 10 months.

Former Everton defender Joseph Yobo is the most capped player in the history of Nigeria’s national with 96 appearances.

Nigeria are the only African nation to qualify in undefeated fashion in the World Cup alongside Ivory Coast.

Iran have only won one in nine World Cup fixtures – the team never made it past the group stage.

 

The Iranian Lions are undefeated in their last four friendlies as they have beaten Trinidad and Tobago and drew Angola, Montenegro and Belarus. The Super Eagles, on the other hand, failed to win any of their last four warm-up games as they lost to USA and drew Scotland and Greece.

 

ODDS…

Iran to win: 11.4

Nigeria to win: 5.4

Draw: 21.10

The INDEPENDENT, The GUARDIAN, UK