Three-time champions Nigeria had no trouble with Iran at the Khalifa Bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain racking up three goals in the first half en route to a 4-1 win. The result sets up a quarter-final date for the Nigerians with Uruguay, a game in which they will likely be missing two of their best attackers – Kalechi Iheanacho and Success Isaac – through injury.
Nigeria came out all guns blazing in the opening seconds. Iheanacho, who scored four goals in the opener on this very pitch, fired a vicious shot from the corner of the penalty area inside the first minute that only just flew over the bar. It wasn’t long after that Chidiebere Nwakali raced through midfield on the end of an elegant heel flick from Zaharaddeen Bello. His shot from way out, however, also went over the goal.
The pressure was mounting on Iran, who’d been so sturdy up to this point in the competition. Nigeria were attacking up both flanks and crossing dangerously, but the storm subsided and the Iranians began to get some touches on the ball. And when Nwakali tried to dribble out of defence, he was stripped by Mohammad Bazaj, whose effort from a tight angle after 21 minutes was the Iran's first chance of the half.
All that did was make the Nigerians angry. The Golden Eaglets were into the lead just seconds later when Musa Yahaya pulled off an outrageous move to leave his man for dead at the edge of the penalty area. He sent in a low diagonal ball to Samuel Okon, who sliced in from a tight angle. Two minutes later it was 2-0 for the Africans. Taiwo Awoniyi, on for the injured Success Isaac, pulled the ball across the 18-yard line for Iheanacho, who dispatched his fifth goal of the tournament. It would be the impressive No10’s last action, as he pulled his hamstring shortly after and signaled for a substitute.
Captain Musa Muhammed grabbed another five minutes from the interval, taking advantage of some slack Iranian marking to surge into the area and make it 3-0 at the break.
The second half lacked the total attacking sparkle of the first, but the Nigerians remained in full control. In the 78th minute, Yahaya dropped his shoulder brilliantly again – pulling out his signature move – before firing low into the corner from 25 yards. Iran managed a consolation goal six minutes from time. Substitute Ali Gholizadeh scored from the edge of the box with the Nigerian defenders suffering from a bit of understandable complacency. It was clearly too little too late for Iran though, as Nigeria’s dominant performance will likely send a chill up the spine of Uruguay, who they will meet in the last eight.