The first draw of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ came on Monday afternoon, in the 13th match of the tournament. While that number brought the well-organised Asians no misfortune, the same could not be said for their African opponents, who went away with less than they had hoped for.
Chances were few and far between in the Group F match at Curitiba’s Arena da Baixada. Though the Super Eagles went into the game as favourites, on account of the experience and quality of their players, it was Team Melli who created the clearest chance of the match.
Speaking to FIFA.com after the goalless draw, Iran’s Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz revealed how his players felt about their afternoon’s work: “We’re relieved to have got the point. We’re up against Argentina in our next game and if we’d lost this match, then we would have left ourselves in a very tricky situation. We are very happy, because Iran have got much less to work with than other sides.”
The former Real Madrid coach added that the key to his side’s performance lay in the sheer commitment and determination of his players: “They played a fantastic game in terms of their concentration, discipline and their willingness to work for each other. That was our biggest asset. The most important thing we can take from this game is that our morale is high. It’s shown that we can get results.”
Iran captain Javad Nekounam echoed his coach’s words: “We started the game well. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy at all and we also knew that we’d lose if we didn’t keep our focus. We are happier with the result than they are, but we can’t just settle for what we’ve got. We only have one point and we still have two very difficult games ahead of us.
“We did everything well,” continued the ex-Osasuna midfielder, who is optimistic about Iran’s immediate future. “We could have snatched a win in the last 20 minutes, but we lacked the finishing touch. I think that’s the area we need to improve in. When you consider that a lot of our players were making their World Cup debuts, it’s been a very good day for us.”
The other side of the coin
As for the Nigerians, who have now gone nine FIFA World Cup games without a win, the result was far from expected, as Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi explained: “We played very well in the first half. The forwards were very active and they had a couple of chances to score, though we couldn’t put them away. We lost our shape in the second half.”
He added: “I felt we could have won the game but we were lacking a bit of inspiration on the pitch. All credit to Iran. They stuck to their gameplan and were able to put it into practice from start to finish.”
For Budweiser Man of the Match John Obi Mikel, the result was not what he wanted: “Naturally we’re disappointed because we know what it means to win your opening match at the World Cup. We thought we had a good chance of winning. We created some openings in the first half and I think we deserved to score. Iran kept us at bay, though, and they were well organised at the back.
“We need to raise our game if we want to reach the next round,” said the Chelsea midfielder, offering a frank assessment of the task facing Nigeria. “We prepared very well for this World Cup and we can’t afford to drop another point in our remaining games.”