Ireland draw Nigeria in friendly

Robbie Keane saved the day for Ireland, the Tottenham captain producing the equaliser to earn Giovanni Trapattoni's side a 1-1 draw with Nigeria in a friendly at Craven Cottage.

Michael Enemaro bought beleaguered Nigeria coach Shuaibu Amodu some precious breathing space with a fine goal in the 30th minute to put his team in front. But eight minutes later Keane plundered a deserved equaliser for Ireland.

Trapattoni will have been reasonably satisfied with his evening's work as he prepares for next Saturday's 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifier in Bulgaria, where they can all but rubber-stamp a top-two finish in qualifying Group Eight. Even so, the Italian might have been disappointed that his in-form side could not have disposed of a Nigeria team stripped of John Mikel Obi, Joseph Yobo, Obafemi Martins and Chinedu Obasi through club commitments or injuries.

In truth, most of the players looked as if they would rather be on the beach resting their aching limbs than turning out in south-west London, and entertainment was at something of a premium for the supporters who turned the stadium into a sea of green. What little urgency there was came mostly in the first half. The Irish might have taken the lead early on when Keane's canny through-ball almost set up Leon Best, only for the debutant to be beaten to it by goalkeeper Austin Ejide.

That set a suitably frustrating tone for Best. The Coventry striker, making his international debut, was then denied in the 27th minute by a last-gasp sliding tackle by Sam Sodje and then hit the post with a header from point-blank range. He was given a masterclass in finishing from Enemaro. The midfielder swept in a fine first-time shot after being picked out 12 yards out by Femi Olubayo's fine cross from the right.

That should have given Nigeria a platform for victory, but Ireland were level by the break. A cute pass from Keith Andrews found Keane in the area and, once the Ireland skipper had rounded Ejide, the equaliser was inevitable. Ireland might have been ahead before half-time, only for Best to strike the post from point-blank range with a header, but they maintained their momentum after the break.

In the 52nd minute, Ejide's poor clearance was seized by Shane Long and the Reading striker lobbed back towards goal. The goalkeeper only just made his ground in time to palm behind. There were few chances worthy of the name as the game ground to a close, as both teams made a spate of substitutions to keep legs fresh for more pressing engagements in the days to come.

Amodu, who was severely criticised after Nigeria opened their FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign with a goalless draw against Mozambique, has a high-profile friendly with France in Saint Etienne on Tuesday but of even greater importance is the qualifier against Kenya in Abuja on 7 June. Defeat there cannot be countenanced, so Nigeria's sturdy performance here - albeit with a largely second-string side - will have cheered the coach.