Nigeria were buoyed by their performance against Argentina at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park, despite finishing on the wrong end of a 1-0 scoreline in their opening game.
Goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama was the talk of the African's camp after a man-of-the-match display against Diego Maradona's side. Again and again, he rescued the Super Eagles when it seemed Lionel Messi and his team-mates would add to Gabriel Heinze’s sixth-minute opener. But the team also took heart from the way they were able to pull together after the body blow of the early goal.
"Actually we were not really worried about falling behind so early," Budweiser Man of the Match Enyeama told FIFA after the game. "We were shocked for sure, but we knew we had a long time to play. So we just focused on ourselves, and we got better. We just wanted to show that we could score, and thankfully we prevented them from scoring again. But they had many chances."
That was something of an understatement by the Hapoel Tel-Aviv player, who believed this performance was the best of his career. He made at least half-a-dozen top-drawer saves on the night, most of them at the expense of Messi, who Enyeama and several of his team-mates labelled as the best in the world after the match.
We’re not happy to lose, but to hold a team like Argentina to 1-0 was a good job.
But while the Nigerians were full of praise for their South American rivals, they were also proud of the way they held on to a match that often threatened to get out of control. "We were unlucky not to get a point in the end," said striker Yakubu Aiyegbeni, who toiled away up top alongside first Victor Obinna and then Obafemi Martins.
"We’re not happy to lose, but to hold a team like Argentina to 1-0 was a good job. We still have much to do, and the chance to advance. Of course the goalkeeper was unbelievable and without him it would have been three or four goals. But, you know, we see him do that in training every day."
Peter Odemwingie, who came on as a second half substitute, described the feeling in the camp as positive. "I’m happy with how we played against one of the best teams in the world," he told FIFA.com. "We had some good luck, and it was a good night for us. I think we showed we have the potential and we can do well.
"So the mood in the team is good. We lost a game in the World Cup, but I’ve been getting feedback from home that people are happy. We did not do what we wanted to do in attack, but not to concede more than one goal was important, and I think against other teams it will be easier," he said.
Many of the players are looking ahead to the next match against Greece on 17 June with optimism. The Greeks, 2-0 losers to Korea Republic on Saturday, should present a totally different challenge to the Argentines, but clearly a win is vital if either side is to escape Group B.
"Now we know we must get three points against Greece," said Martins, who injected some pace into the Nigerian team after coming on as a substitute early in the second half. "I hope we play better than today, and we will work hard from now until then because we can still achieve a lot in South Africa."