South Korea today made it to the second round of the World Cup for the first time on foreign soil by converting on set pieces and outlasting an explosive Nigerian team that could easily have prevailed were it not for a few wasted chances.
In one of the World Cup’s most closely fought and entertaining matches so far, the two up-and-coming soccer powers dueled hard for the right to be one the last 16 teams in the tournament.
Nigeria’s Super Eagles drew first blood with a goal in the 12th minute by Kalu Uche, who celebrated by running straight to the corner, sticking out his tongue, and weakly flapping his arms, looking more like a chickadee than a Super Eagle.
South Korea answered back before halftime, though, when Lee Jung-Soo slotted in a goal off a free kick thanks to shoddy defending by the Nigerians.
The Reds pulled ahead shortly after halftime on another set piece. This time, Park Chu-Young curled a free kick around the Nigerian wall, inside the goalpost and just past the outstretched hand of goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama.
This changed the tenor of the game and unleashed the full force of offensive creativity that World Cup fans are used to seeing from the Super Eagles.
Martins livened up the offense with some runs down the right flank and some moves inside that repeatedly caught the Koreans off guard.
Then, in the 65th minute – in a moment that will live in infamy for his soccer loving nation – Everton striker Yakubu Aiyegbeni got the chance of a lifetime, but missed an open net. Minutes later, he got the chance to make up for it and did by calmly converting a penalty kick.
But the Super Eagles weren’t finished. They needed the win and they played hard for it, streaking in from the wings and swooping in for more goals. Despite numerous near-misses, however, there were no goals to be found.
In the closest of all the chances near the end of the nail-biting match, Martins found himself alone with the goalkeeper but floated a chip just right of the goal.
This, along with Yakubu’s open-goal blunder, will be replayed over and over in Nigeria and throughout the Nigerian diaspora worldwide.
Still, Nigerians can be proud of the way their team fought today, and can take solace that they should have won and moved on.
The problem is that Nigerians are far beyond moral victories. They expect their team to compete with the best in the world and tolerate nothing less.
“The second half today was the Nigeria that we had been expecting all Cup,” said former German soccer star and current ESPN commentator Jurgen Klinsmann, adding that the Super Eagles could have been playing with that drive and emotion in its first two games. “It’s sad to see such a soccer nation going home.”
Indeed it is, at least now that they finally came with the brand of soccer that they’re known for.
But, it’s too little, too late.
Perhaps they can learn something from their Korean counterparts: A little discipline and consistency go a long way.
World Cup 101:
- World Cup 101: How does the tournament work?
- World Cup 101: Why is the World Cup such a big deal?
- World Cup 101: Why is the World Cup in South Africa?
- World Cup 101: Is South Africa really prepared to host the World Cup?
- World Cup 101: Who’s favored to win it all?
What you think makes the World Cup special?