Underdogs Iran held Nigeria to a scoreless draw in a Group F game in Curitiba on Monday, the first drawn game of the 2014 World Cup.
Both teams went into the match knowing they needed a win to have a realistic chance of reaching the next round, following the good display by Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina in the group’s opening game Sunday.
But in a match short of clear-cut scoring chances Nigeria were unable to break through a solid Iranian defence. The Nigerians began strongly but gradually faded, allowing Iran to come into game more without posing any serious threat.
In a furious start Nigeria had the ball in the net after seven minutes when Iran goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi failed to hold a high cross in the goal area. But the Ecuadorian referee Carlos Vera adjudged the keeper to have been fouled and refused to allow the goal to stand.
Nigeria’s Liverpool forward Victor Moses and Lazio’s Ogenyi Onazi went close in the early stages as the Super Eagles sought to breach the well-organized Iranian defence.
Iran almost took the lead against the run of play when Charlton striker Reza Ghoochannejad got his head to a corner from Ashkan Dejagah only to see a cat-like save by Nigerian keeper Vincent Eneyeama deny him a goal.
Nigeria, the reigning African champions, sought to regain the initiative by driving forward, but were let down by poor passing and long balls down the middle that failed to find their target.
Iran were a bit more adventurous after the break, with Ghoochannejad and German-born Dejagah giving Eneyeama some anxious moments in the Super Eagles’ goal.
Nigeria seemed unable to raise their game as Iran grew in confidence as the match progressed. Ghoochannejad had a good chance on 66 minutes when Nigeria failed to clear their lines but he blasted the ball high over the bar.
Coach Stephen Keshi brought on Shola Ameobi for Moses and the substitute almost scored from a glancing header that flashed narrowly wide of Haghighi’s right post.
Iran found a gap in the Nigerian defence but Dejagah was unable to connect properly with the ball and headed it over the bar.
There was a scare for Iran in the dying minutes when Mehrdad Pooladi rose to head clear in front of goal with Ameobi lurking close by.
The result leaves both teams with a point apiece behind group leaders Argentina. The South Americans face Iran on Saturday, with Nigeria up against Bosnia-Herzegovina later that day.