The Super Eagles of Nigeria on Friday defeated Iceland 2-0 in their second Group D game at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Two second-half strikes from Ahmed Musa at the Volgograd Arena gave the Super Eagles a much-needed win and boosted their hopes of advancing to the knockout phase of the Mundial.
Billed as a must-win game for Nigeria after their defeat to Croatia on Saturday, it was, however, Iceland who began with a quick tempo as they set the pace of the game and created two chances in the first six minutes.
Gylfi Sigurdsson bent in a powerful freekick towards the right-hand post of the Nigerian goal in the third minute, but his effort was saved by the young ‘Eagles goalkeeper, Francis Uzoho.
Sigurdsson also had another attempt on goal in the sixth minute after he found space between the Nigerian defensive line and fired a shot from the edge of the box, but his effort was once again repelled by Uzoho.
The Nigerian team, however, gradually grew in and imposed themselves in the game; dominating possession and moving around. But the African team was not penetrative enough as they could not sustain their build-up in the final third.
Despite Nigeria’s dominating possession, Iceland was the team that was a threat offensively anytime they surged forward.
Birkir Bjarnason had a chance to put the Icelandic team ahead in the 33rd minute but he wildly blazed the ball over the crossbar.
A dangerous freekick whipped in by Sigurdsson into opponents penalty box in added time of the first half was missed by all Iceland players but narrowly hit an unaware Alfred Finnbogason out of touch to relive some huge gasps by the Nigerian players.
Less than one minute later, the influential Sigurdsson played in a corner kick but was just headed over the crossbar by striker Jon Boodvarsson, who was left unmarked in the box.
It meant that the Super Eagles failed to register a shot on target in the first half.
Following Tyronne Ebuehi’s introduction for Brian Idowu at halftime by the Nigerian coach, Gernot Rohr, the Super Eagles began the second half on a quicker tempo.
Seconds after the game’s restart, midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo made a short darting run and found space to shoot from 20 yards, but his attempt was comfortably saved by Hannes Halldorsson.
The Super Eagles were rewarded for their enterprising approach with the game’s first goal in the 49th minute. Following a quick break, Victor Moses received the ball on the right wing and crossed into the box, the ball was met by Ahmed Musa, who swiftly controlled the ball, allowed the ball to land and slammed it past a sprawling Halldorsson into the net.
Nigeria grew in confidence after Musa’s goal and began to create a host of goal-scoring opportunities.
Midfielder Wilfred Ndidi fired a cracker from 25 yards in the 57th minute but his deflected effort was turned over the crossbar by Halldorsson for a corner kick.
Next to have an attempt for the Super Eagles was Moses in the 66th minute, who ran in from the right wing into Iceland’s penalty area and fired a shot, but his effort went wide.
In the 70th minute, captain Mikel John Obi crossed in the ball just a few meters from the edge of the box and it was met by William Troost-Ekong, whose low header failed to threaten the Iceland goalkeeper.
Two minutes later, Kelechi Iheanacho played a corner kick, which was just headed over the crossbar by Leon Balogun
The Super Eagles continued to pile up the pressure in the 73rd minute after Musa received the ball from Moses on the left side of attack, steadied himself and whipped a ferocious shot, which crashed the crossbar.
Nigeria’s dominance paid off in the 76th minute after Musa scored a brilliant individualistic goal. On a quick counter-attack, the Leicester City winger outpaced his marker, jinked his way into the Icelandic penalty box, dribbled another defender and goalkeeper Halldorsson, picked his spot and blazed the ball into an empty net to score a brace and double the Super Eagles’ lead.
Musa, with his goals, therefore, became the first Nigerian to score at two different editions of the World Cup.
The game took a dramatic turn in the 80th minute after Ebuehi fouled an Icelandic player in the penalty box. Referee Matt Conger from New Zealand did not award a penalty initially but after consultations with the Video Assistant Referee, VAR, he decided to review the incident on the monitor himself and then awarded a penalty.
Sigurdsson stepped up and played the penalty, but the Everton playmaker surprisingly blazed the ball over Uzoho’s goalpost.
Upon another quick counter-attack by Nigeria which was initiated by Mikel, Etebo received the ball on the edge of the box and passed it to Iheanacho, but the Leicester City attacker causally struck his shot straight at Halldorsson.
Iceland though had the last attempt on goal in the game as after an interchange of passes in the box, the ball fell to Finnbogason who struck a powerful shot, but was saved by Uzoho.
The result leaves Nigeria second with three points behind group leader, Croatia, and would need to win the last placed team in the group, Argentina, in their last game or secure a draw and hope the Croats beat Iceland to progress to the second round of the World Cup.