Nigeria player ratings as magnificent Ahmed Musa earns a 9 and gives Super Eagles World Cup lift-off

Matt Jones 22/06/2018
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Nigeria breathed life into their World Cup campaign with a vital 2-0 win against Iceland in Volgograd.

They were second best in a first half dominated by the tiny European nation, but they were revitalised after the break and broke the deadlock when Leicester City forward Ahmed Musa thundered a ferocious effort into the roof of the net after Victor Moses had supplied a fine cross following a flowing counter-attack.

Musa later hit the bar before netting his second goal moments later after latching onto a long ball and utilising his pace, rounding goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson before stylishly sidefooting home.

Iceland’s talisman Gylfi Sigurdsson had the chance to get his side back into it but surprisingly skied his spot kick and that was that.

Here we rate the Nigeria players.

NIGERIA (3-5-2)

Francis Uzoho – 6:

Iceland looked to exploit his inexperience, but was assured, especially in a first half in which he was by far the busier keeper. Got down well late on to save Finnbogason’s effort.

Leon Balogun – 6:

Dealt well with a succession of brilliant Iceland crosses. Got a decisive touch on one in the first half to take it away from two lurking blue shirts. Wasted a chance to make it 2-0 in the opposing box.

William Troost-Ekong – 7:

Solid and steady as Iceland pressed once falling behind. Formed a solid barrier alongside Balogun and Omeruo. His five clearances jointly led Nigeria alongside Omeruo.

Kenneth Omeruo – 7:

Stood up well to the test of Iceland’s dangerous crossing. Long ball set Musa racing away for his second.

Victor Moses – 8:

Had been one of Nigeria’s livelier players in a blunt first half. Broke brilliantly and delivered a fine ball for Musa’s opener. Always a threat.

Wilfred Ndidi – 6:

Industrious as ever in the Nigeria engine room, but struggled to keep a handle on their forward thinking midfield. Brought a fine stop out of Halldorsson.

John Obi Mikel – 6:

Veteran diligently patrolled midfield and allowed his more livewire colleagues to affect the game in the final third.

Oghenekaro Etebo – 6:

Typified Nigeria’s improved attitude in the second half, finally giving Halldorsson something to do in the opening seconds.

Brian Idowu – 5:

Earned the first yellow card of the game for a cynical foul. Had a poor afternoon and was subbed off at the break.

Kelechi Iheanacho – 4:

The Leicester man typified a lack of quality in attack from Nigeria in the first half. Worked hard but outshone by strike partner Musa in the second.

Ahmed Musa – 9:

Familiar with his surroundings having spent last season on loan at former club CSKA Moscow, he hammered in unstoppably to give Nigeria the lead. Later hit the bar before he brilliantly bagged a second. First man to score for the Super Eagles at two World Cups.

SUBS:

Tyronne Ebuehi – 5:

Brought on for the poor Idowu but his one telling contribution was to concede a penalty.

Odion Ighalo N/A

Little time to make an impact. A surprise to see him only brought on for the ineffective Iheanacho with five minutes left.

Alex Iwobi N/A

Brought on as a fresh pair of legs to stretch Iceland late on.

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Gareth Southgate not bothered about leaked England team picture

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England manager Gareth Southgate has questioned whether media were right to publish pictures of apparent team line-up plans for the Panama game – but insisted it was “no drama”.

A photographer captured a note carried by assistant manager Steve Holland in training that looked to give away England’s intentions ahead of the second Group G match in Nizhny Novgorod on Sunday.

The Three Lions boss, who suffered a dislocated shoulder while out running earlier this week, played down the tactical significance of the information which was revealed.

The England manager said on talkSPORT: “It doesn’t bother me in the slightest. It is a squad of 23 names on the sheet, the next sheet has different players in different positions because we swap people in and swap people out. The stories are then run as they are. For me, no drama.

“Obviously any time, if we were to give the opposition the opportunity of having our team it’s a disadvantage to us. So of course our media has to decide whether they want to help the team or not.

“Given that was just a squad list, it doesn’t make any difference to us really.”

Defender Kyle Walker was also asked about the leaked note – and, like Southgate, urged the media to keep any information to themselves in order to help the national team.

After revealing the players had not been told the starting XI a couple of days in advance, as had been the case for the opening game against Tunisia, the Manchester City right-back asked the press to do the “polite” thing.

Walker said: “I think if you guys try to keep it to yourself and don’t bring it out to the world, because it’s not going to help us come the later stages of the tournament, please God we get there. All the rest of the world’s seen our team now, if that is the team or if not…

“As I say, you guys have to do your little bit, so if you could just please help us with that it would be polite.”

Walker said Holland had apologised to the squad at Friday’s training session for allowing the picture to be taken.

“He’s apologised to us all in training, which we had a bit of banter with him about, and that was it – we knocked it on the head at that,” the defender added.

Walker, who conceded a penalty in England’s 2-1 opening Group G win over Tunisia, was asked if the players had been told of the starting line-up to face Panama.

“No. We don’t have a clue,” the 28-year-old said.

“Obviously before, he (Southgate) did give us a couple of days as to who’s playing or not, but he’s going to do it tomorrow so we’ll find out tomorrow.”

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Neymar brilliant but also baffling in our Brazil v Costa Rica talking points

Matt Jones 22/06/2018
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The struggles of the elite nations at the World Cup continued as Brazil laboured in their 2-0 victory against Costa Rica.

Philippe Coutinho was the hero for the South Americans, scoring the crucial opener and simultaneously breaking Los Ticos hearts beyond 90 minutes.

Neymar added even later gloss when he tapped in with virtually the last kick of the game to put Brazil on the brink of the knockouts and send Costa Rica home.

Here, we look at the talking points from the game:

NEYMAR IS NOT A KID ANYMORE

Neymar was notoriously off-colour against Costa Rica.

Neymar was notoriously off-colour against Costa Rica.

Neymar is a nuisance to opposition defences, with his sublime skill and scoring ability. But in this game he posed problems for his own team rather than Costa Rica in a display laced with immaturity and profligacy.

Fans and analysts will point to his eye-catching ability and goal that likely seals passage into the knockout stages. But for all his charm and tricks, one of the game’s greatest talents too often allows misbehaviour to outshine his magic.

He was fouled more times (10) against Switzerland than any player had been felled in an opening World Cup match since England’s Alan Shearer (11) against Tunisia at France 98.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story of a player who buys so many cheap, often unwarranted fouls, because of who he is.

The penalty that experienced Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers initially awarded for the slightest of tugs on Neymar by Bologna’s Giancarlo Gonzalez was prime prima donna behaviour from the Paris Saint-Germain player, who has been even more over indulged since arriving in the French capital than previously.

He was then booked moments later for petulantly punching the ball away when another call went against him.

Normally he can block out the bad side of his game with the brilliant, but even that was missing here.

Statistically he endured a nightmare day. Dispossessed a mindblowing nine times and registering five unskilled touches (both not only team, but game highs), his pass accuracy of 89.8 per cent was also fourth worst for Brazil.

And while he ended on a high with the second goal, lest we forget he earlier wasted Brazil’s best two chances when ballooning over just before the hour and curling wastefully wide too.

Neymar is now 26. Such childish behaviour is not becoming of one of the game’s greats.

MIGHTY MINNOWS

Cristian Gamboa (r) typified Costa Rica's tenacity.

Cristian Gamboa (r) typified Costa Rica’s tenacity.

Defeat was particularly harsh on Costa Rica, who head home in the knowledge that they played their hearts out and made Brazil look distinctly very average for long spells.

That will provide no comfort currently to Oscar Ramirez and Co, however, who deserved far better for their efforts in Saint Petersburg.

They knew they would have to withstand a Brazilian bombardment with the myriad brilliant players at Tite’s disposal – but they were far from all out defence for 90 minutes.

After a gritty opening they ventured forward and grew in confidence as the first half wore on – buoyed by a first shot on target from their opponents registered only in the 40th minute – and again in the second as Brazil and their superstars became visibly irked.

Keylor Navas was a rock in goal, with the Real Madrid stopper and his defence stoic throughout and deserving of a draw. Had Celso Borges buried his fizzed effort into Alisson’s bottom right corner after 13 minutes, they might have even had a lead to defend.

Cristian Gamboa, whose charge down the right led to that glorious chance for Borges, typified Los Ticos’ tigerish tenacity.

Three tackles from the underused Celtic man who had a 100 per cent tackle success rate in their opener against Serbia, in addition to two interceptions and one block. Gamboa would later brilliantly prevent Coutinho a certain goal with a goal-line clearance.

As it was, their finals foray ends in the group stage four years on from their resplendent run to the quarter-finals, with only a heartbreaking tale against Brazil to tell.

WILLIAN LEFT TO COUNT THE COSTA

Woeful Willian was hauled off at half-time.

Woeful Willian was hauled off at half-time.

Tite opted for the tried and trusted method and remained faithful to the attacking trio that started the 1-1 draw with Switzerland – despite an abject second-half performance.

But a woeful display from Willian saw the Chelsea man hooked at half-time, and the Brazil coach is sure to bring Douglas Costa into his starting XI for the final Group E clash with Serbia after making a huge impact off the bench.

Willian’s pass accuracy of 83.3 per cent was the second worst in the Brazil team after Gabriel Jesus in the opening 45 minutes, while he was dispossessed three times. Only Neymar (five) lost the ball more in that period, but the nation’s prodigal son is hardly likely to be dropped, despite his own heavily mixed outing.

Costa was the very antithesis of Willian in the second 45, vibrant throughout and delivering a delicious cross which Neymar tucked away to seal the three points.

He had 11 more touches (46) and contributed three key passes to Willian’s unsurprising tally of zero. His five dribbles were also three more than Willian managed – in fact he led Brazil in an attacking display that struck fear into Los Ticos.

Before the World Cup there was talk of Willian joining Manchester United this summer, which Red Devils fans won’t be particularly enamoured to hear. A 29-year-old winger in decline. He is still a sublime talent but lacks the deadly dynamism of his younger days.

There will surely now be a shake-up in attack for the Serbia game – likely to be a showdown for top spot. Costa has played himself into contention while Willian is left to count the cost of two ineffectual displays.

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