Nigeria and Mexico played out an exciting, breathless draw at Reliant Stadium in Houston, both sides keen to impress ahead of a potentially crucial summer, with the Confederations Cup looming ahead.
Manchester United forward Chicharito opened the scoring for Mexico on 21 minutes, before the complexion of the game was changed as Nigeria found the initiative.
Pablo Barrera was dismissed following a handball on the line, and Ideye Brown dispatched the resulting spot kick. The Super Eagles took the lead before halftime after John Ogu’s shot was deflected cruelly past Corona in the Mexico goal.
The West Africans sought to wrap things up in the second half, but Mexico continued to show attacking rigor despite being a man down and eventually were rewarded as Chicharito struck on 70 minutes. The striker demonstrated his class by turning a Carlos Salcido cross past Vincent Enyeama.
With both teams preparing for the Confederations Cup, the match was a prime opportunity to assess their progress and begin to forecast their fortunes for the summer ahead.
Read on to discover five things we learned from Friday evening’s battle.
The "international friendly" has received a lot of bad press in recent times.
With crowds often disinterested, players attempting to avoid injury and managers reducing the integrity with a flurry of substitutions, the games can often feel mundane and pedestrian.
However, Brazil’s recent friendly outings have offset the malaise that accompanies fixtures such as the recent England/Ireland bout, and amicable matches can still offer intrigue and entertainment. Yesterday evening’s clash was a classic example.
The game was, at times, both intense and thrilling. Mexico sought to demonstrate their attacking flair, while Nigeria, often looking ragged, attempted to profit from their man advantage.
The contest was pulsating, with both a number of heavy tackles and goalmouth action a testament to the desire among both sets of players to answer their critics. The vociferous Mexican fans in attendance certainly enjoyed themselves!
Nigeria’s youthful squad have rightly received praise.
Their momentous Cup of Nations victory in South Africa proved that while many of these players are at the beginning of their careers, and currently short on international caps, they have the prerequisite temperament to do business in an international tournament.
Last night, however, shorn of some key players, including John Obi Mikel, the team often struggled to impose themselves on the contest. The experienced Vincent Enyeama was brought on as a halftime substitute in the Nigerian goal, and while he succeeded in calming the defence for the second period, it was notable how disorganized Godfrey Oboabona and Kenneth Omeruo appeared during the first 45 minutes.
Eagles boss Stephen Keshi, himself a former centre-back, would have been alarmed at the space his defenders allowed for Hernandez’s opening goal.
Similarly, while Ogenyi Onazi and Sunday Mba were manful in marshaling the midfield, neither has the composure nor the nous of Chelsea man Mikel John Obi. Thus, the Super Eagles often appeared outnumbered in the centre of the park, with the inexperienced pair struggling to impose themselves on the game and dictate the play.
While the squad’s youngsters will surely herald an exciting future, this game served to demonstrate the importance of having a few experienced heads take the pressure off younger teammates.
It is certain that we didn’t just learn this last night, but I believe that the furor and plaudits that have surrounded Robin van Persie’s first season at Manchester United have perhaps taken the shine and the attention away from Javier Hernandez.
As he demonstrated last night with Mexico, Chicharito is a world-class finisher. His first goal, admittedly, was a gift from the Nigerian defenders, but his second evidenced sublime movement, excellent positioning and the kind of clinical finishing that is the preserve of only the finest frontmen
Mexicans have a long history of delectable strikers. The likes of Luis Hernandez, Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Jared Borgetti have etched their international legacies through their ability to finish off the creative displays of their peers.
Few prospects entice me more than the promise of Chicharito, backed by his creative colleagues, taking on the international defences of Brazil, Italy and Japan this summer.
A good campaign could bode well for a Mexican challenge at the World Cup next year, and David Moyes will surely be licking his lips at the chance to work with such an accomplished attacking talent.
While I was swift to bemoan the absence of John Obi Mikel from last night’s friendly bout, I find myself once again compelled to sing the praises of Nigeria midfielder Ogenyi Onazi.
Last night, once again, Onazi demonstrated his worth as a terrier in the heart of the Nigerian midfield. Continuing the sterling work of his maiden breakthrough season with Lazio, the midfielder was 100 percent committed and demonstrated a ruthless desire to retain possession for his team, regain the ball when lost and break up the opposition’s skirmishes forward.
Despite there being little on the line during last night’s contest, Onazi displayed absolute pride in wearing the famous green of Nigeria and demonstrated his worth to the team as the engine and enforcer
Stephen Keshi’s choice of formation and approach, with two strikers and options out wide, often resulted in the Super Eagles being outnumbered in the centre of the park. If he continues to operate so offensively, then it is doubtless, as was the case last night, that the youngster will continue to have a lot of work to do.
The prospect of Onazi and Mikel dovetailing together in the Nigerian midfield, as was the case at the recent Cup of Nations, is enough to set pulses racing back in West Africa.
While this season has afforded him the experience of the Europa league and several high-octane domestic matches, a chance to go toe-to-toe with Spain’s celebrated midfield this summer, in a competitive fixture, will be an enormous test for the Super Eagles battler.
The two managers expressed tentative contentment following Friday’s result. The pair, however, will realism that improvement is required if their respective national sides are to qualify at this summer’s Confederations Cup in Brazil.
They can take solace, however, in the knowledge that key players are set to return to the two lineups.
Jose Manuel de la Torre can sleep easy in the knowledge that he has the likes of Giovani dos Santos and Carlos Vela still to come into the Mexican team. While El Tri impressed with pace down the flanks, particularly the fleet-footed Andres Guardado, dos Santos and Vela would offer added creativity and improved guile through the middle. Mexico could enter the Confederations Cup with their irresistible attacking lineup intact.
As mentioned previously, John Obi Mikel will surely return and help the young Super Eagles regain composure and control the play—imperative for winning against the stronger teams.
While Victor Moses and Emmanuel Emenike will play no part in the vital summer fixtures, Russia-based frontman Ahmed Musa has a point to prove and could have a major impact when brought into the team in Brazil.