African champions Nigeria blamed impatience for their failure to break down outsiders Iran in a 0-0 draw on Monday that stood out like a sore thumb in an otherwise thrilling World Cup.
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz had made it clear that he would pack his defence in the group F game but Nigeria swiftly ran out of ideas when confronted with the tactic.
“They want to go like horses and get it done in two minutes. They have to have patience,” coach Stephen Keshi said.
“I think it took a toll of them when the goal was not coming.”
Nigeria, featuring English Premier League players John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses, started brightly enough and had the ball in the net after seven minutes but the effort was ruled out for a foul on Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi.
Midfielder Ogenyi Onazi shot narrowly wide two minutes later but the game degenerated after that.
“I’m not sure we played badly, it’s just that we couldn’t convert the goals,” said Keshi. “Respect to Iran, they had their game plan to sit back and defend and they did well.”
The locals in the crowd did not share that view, greeting the catalogue of misplaced passes and underhit crosses with jeers and whistles.
WATCH: Ahmed Musa shoots in the 31st minute.
Mikel, who tried to orchestrate Nigerian attacks from deep, shared his coach’s assessment.
“They had 11 men behind the ball all the time, so it was difficult to create chances,” said Mikel, who had the dubious honour of being named man of the match.
“The first 15-20 minutes, we tried to push and we pushed a bit too hard. They sat back, they didn’t come out to play and so it became difficult,” he said.
Nigeria are still looking for their first win at the World Cup since 1998 and the result put them under added pressure to beat Bosnia on Saturday in a group topped by Argentina.
Keshi knows that the bore draw will not go down well back home in Africa’s most populous nation.
“In my country, we want to win at all costs, whatever happens you have to win,” he said.
“We don’t understand that sometimes it doesn’t go that way, you win some, you lose some.”
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz said the result was “fair” and that his players deserved “sympathy and respect” for performing on the biggest stage despite the impact of economic sanctions on the country, which made it difficult to arrange friendlies.
“We’re not here to perform the role of the happy loser,” Queiroz, 61, said. “The fans need to know the conditions we have endured for three years to get here.”
Queiroz wouldn’t talk about the team’s next game against Argentina.
“I’m so tired just let me enjoy this point we collected from Nigeria,” he said.
Reuters, Associated Press