18th June, 2010
Nigeria received a special â€˜Greekâ€™ gift in Georgios Samaras, whose introduction in yesterdayâ€™s Group B match against Greece, pitched the Super Eagles among the teams likely to book early tickets out of the 2010 World cup in South Africa.
Samaras, a Celtic of Scotland striker became the joker that Greece Coach, Otto Rehhagel used to subdue the Eagles when the Nigerian team were reduced to 10 men in the tension-soaked encounter at the stadium in Bloemfontein.
Sani Kaita, who prepared the ground for a complete Greek invasion on Nigeria intentionally lifted his leg high to kick Vassilis Torosidis about 33 minutes into the tie.
The match was already going well in favour of the Eagles and it signalled a second round hopes for Nigeria had it not been for the silly but deserved red card showed to Kaita.
Coach Rehhagel, while analysing the match in an interview with P.M.Sports said: â€œI was furious when the Nigerian player (Kaita) lashed out with a crude stamp on my playerâ€™s thigh. The referee was yet to take his decision when I told Samaras to get ready for the kill.
â€œI knew Kaita was on his way out and, when I saw him walking out, I quickly pulled out a player for Samaras to mount the pressure on Nigeria. The strategy paid off and everyone saw the resultâ€.
Greece capitalised on Kaitaâ€™s sending off as they went on the attack, playing the ball more in the Nigerian half with a Greek siege on a magnificent goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama for the remainder of the match.
Before Kaitaâ€™s expulsion, Nigeria had taken the lead in the 17th minute through a perfectly taken free kick by Kalu Uche. His 38 yards shot floated over Osaze Odemwingie and a combined group of Nigeria and Greece players before sailing straight into the net.
Greek keeper Alexandros Tzorvas followed Osazeâ€™s move to his right only for the ball to fly to other side of the net. Undoubtedly, it was a deserved lead for the Eagles, who started the match on a high.
The lead was, however, short-lived as the pressure that followed Kaitaâ€™s exit gave the Europeans a goal to draw level a minute before half-time.
The goal scored by Panathinaikos striker, Dimitrios Salpingidis which was deflected into the net by Haruna Lukman became Greeceâ€™s first ever in FIFA World Cup finals.
Then, the second half was all in Greece favour. As the one-sided affair continued, Uche became the only player challenging the Greek on ball possession while it was keeper Enyeamaâ€™s brilliant saves that kept the scoreline at 1-1 till about 20 minutes to go.
A near chance came Nigeriaâ€™s way shortly after Greece lost the ball in Eaglesâ€™ rear, Yakubu got a pass from Obasi Ogbuke and had only goalkeeper Alexandros Tzorvas, to beat.
But the keeper saved his feeble shot, and more surprise; the begging ball rebounded to Obasi, who missed what looked like the easiest jab-in in a football match.
Just a minute after that, the Eagles paid for their flop by conceding the second goal as Torosidis toed the ball into the net from a rebound after it slipped off Enyeamaâ€™s hands.
Alexandros Tziolis, whose long rage shot spilled off the Nigerian keeper and two other Greek players looked to be in an offside position before Tziolis finished up, but the referee and his assistant didnâ€™t care a hoot.
Enyeama, who tried in vain to save Nigeria complained to the referee about the second goal but his pleadings was not important because the referee had already counted it as Greekâ€™s winner.
The Nigerian Keeper did not lose everything, he won the Man Of The Match award for the second consecutive time, but Enyeama left the stadium a sad keeper.â€œWhatâ€™s the use of these awards when we are on our ways out of the World cup? I feel terrible about the result of this matchâ€, Enyeama told P.M.Sports as he walked away from the lush green pitch in Bloemfontein.
Meanwhile, Nigeriaâ€™s 2010 FIFA World Cup hopes now hang in the balance, courtesy of the Greek gift, which Kaita gave to Eaglesâ€™ opponents on a platter of â€˜RED CARD.
Trust Nigerians, they are never out until the very end. There goes the permutations again, â€œYes, we lost to Greece, we can beat South Korea next Tuesday in the last match and â€˜ifâ€™ Argentina defeat Greece, Nigeria will make it to the next round,â€ thousands of Nigerian supporters said in Bloemfontein last night.
Well, whatever happens, P.M.Sports is here live and will keep our loyal readers abreast of the magic that would see the wingless Eagles, who have no single point from two matches, fly to the second round of South Africa 2010 World Cup.