Iran and Nigeria delivered our first draw of the tournament, playing to a dour 0-0 affair in Curitiba on Monday evening.
Shola Ameobi headed the Super Eagles' best chance wide in the second half while, Reza Ghoochannejad did the same for the Persian Stars in the first.
Formations & XIs
Iran played a very defensive 4-4-1-1 formation with Ashkan Dejagah as a No. 10, Andranik Teymourian in defensive midfield and Khosro Heydari as a defensive right-winger.
Nigeria set up in a flat 4-3-3, with John Obi Mikel, Ramon Azeez and Ogenyi Onazi all playing slightly too deep for comfort.
Attacking the left
Nigeria started timid and slow, posting 69 percent possession at half-time, per WhoScored.com, but not doing an awful lot with it.
They targeted the left side first and foremost, using Victor Moses and Juwon Oshaniwa to overload the flank and work the channels, but the deliveries were mostly poor and Ahmed Musa missed the only good chance created.
Iran fielded two right-backs on that flank—Pejman Montazeri and Heydari—to fend off Moses and Co. so it was a surprise to see them attack in that direction first; later, they re-calibrated and tried their luck on the right but Efe Ambrose cannot cross a ball.
As the first half wore on, it became increasingly difficult for Nigeria to find pressure points to attack due to the slowness with which they moved the ball.
It's a criticism we leveled at Switzerland during their drab 2-1 victory over Ecuador, and the danger with it is that the midfield can easily fall into a rhythm and the clock disappears.
Moses' run directly at his marker in the 33rd minute, resulting in a long stride down the left and an eventual set-piece, was the first time a Nigeria player decided to run head-on with the ball at his feet.
The No. 10 space was left largely unoccupied due to the flatness of the 4-3-3, meaning the Super Eagles also lacked the ability to place a man between the lines and fire balls into him.
Many of the passes toward Emmanuel Emenike were too straight, giving him little chance of using his athleticism to get a run on the defenders and collect.
Overall, an offensive mess.
Switching focus to Iran, they setup exactly as expected and frustrated just as much as we'd guessed.
Carlos Queiroz left Masoud Shojaei on the bench in an effort to maximise defensive efficiency, trusting only Dejagah and Ghoochannejad to make sprints forward with or without the ball.
The Persian Stars generally committed three players to attacks, maximum four, and looked to get a cross into the box or a shot off from distance inside 10 seconds. Sustained pressure was a no-go.
The back four sat very deep, refusing to let Emenike in behind, but life was made easy for them in the centre as Javad Nekounam and Teymourian had no one to mark for long periods.
Shola Ameobi joined the fray after just 52 minutes, while Peter Odemwingie was also introduced with 20 minutes to go.
Ameobi played as a target man and penetrated the box far more consistently, and while on paper that gave the Super Eagles a target for crosses, there was no chemistry present.
Indicative of the match and their fortunes, Ameobi shouted at Ambrose for crossing into the box before he had the chance to join the fray in the 59th minute; a total shambles in the final third.
Odemwingie provided spark and movement, connecting on a lobbed pass and volleying just wide, but he wasn't able to single-handedly win the match for his nation.
Iran will feel like they've won three points; Nigeria will feel like they've lost three.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!