Eagles goalie keeps Messi at bay

2010-06-14 00:00

NIGERIAN goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama has said his man-of-the-match performance in his side’s 1-0 World Cup Group B defeat to Argentina at Ellis Park on Saturday was his “best game ever”.

Enyeama, arguably the best African goalkeeper of the last decade, not only made a string of saves to keep his side in the game, but also won what seemed a personal duel with the world’s best player, Barcelona midfielder Lionel Messi.

The Hapoel Tel-Aviv goalkeeper was the main reason Messi did not get on the score sheet in the diminutive Argentine genius’s first match of the 2010 World Cup, as Enyeama made some spectacular saves to deny the Barca playmaker.

“I want to thank God, because I got those shots by the grace of God. I have watched his [Messi’s] games in the Spanish league and think a bit of that information helped,” Enyeama said afterwards.

“It would be my best-ever perfor­mance, playing against the best player in the world at the moment. You cannot take it away from me.

“I was happy to have a good game. But I would have loved to have swapped it for a victory. It’s not about me, it’s about the victory.”

Nigeria allowed Argentina too much freedom to attack in a first half where Messi, despite not getting on the score sheet, was a constant menace.

Diego Maradona’s South Americans deserved victory and got off to a good start in the tournament, without reaching anywhere near the potential offered by their collective talent.

Argentina took the lead in the sixth minute. After Enyeama had turned over Carlos Tevez’s curling shot from range, Olympique Marseille defender Gabriel Heinze was left free to run into the area and head in Juan Sebas­tien Veron’s corner.

The Argentineans should have scored more goals in a first half where they were rampant, but Nigeria improved dramatically in the second half and had good chances to equalise.

The best of these was when Taye Taiwo’s shot went just wide, though the left-back appeared to pull a hamstring in the process and had to limp off.

Enyeama, playing in his second World Cup having made one appearance for Nigeria in Korea and Japan in 2002, said the Super Eagles had shown too much respect to Argentina in the first half.

“In the second half we thought we could get something out of the game, but we were a bit unlucky.”

Nigerian coach Lars Lagerback said he is proud of his players’ performance. “But I am very disappoin­ted with the result,” the Swede conceded.

Nigeria face Greece, 2-0 losers against South Korea, on June 17 and the Super Eagles will be looking for their first win of the tournament.

Asked whether playing Greece in the next game is preferable to facing the Koreans, Lagerback said: “It’s difficult to answer that question. It’s not good to go into a tournament losing the first game. For Greece it’s the same situation. But, from what I know of my players, they will handle the situation very well.

“From my point of view, I’m very positive going into the next game — it doesn’t matter if Greece lost. It’s important for us to go into the game and win it.”

Mystifyingly, Lagerback benched a number of players who played a crucial part in Nigeria reaching the African Nations Cup finals in Angola in January.

The Super Eagles looked a more dangerous team after the introduction in the second half of Peter Odemwingie, Obafemi Martins and Kalu Uche.

The Swede said he was disappoin­ted in the soft manner in which Heinze was left free to score.

“There was a mistake on our side that led to the corner. I have given the players a lot of credit for how we have handled dead ball situations, and we have worked a lot in the corners.

“But there was a lack of concentration that you can’t afford in a World Cup, because you can be punished, and we were punished. Otherwise I think it would have been a draw.

“But we have two more games and we’re not out of it yet.”

Lagerback said their was no extraneous reason for his not having shaken hands with Maradona after the game. “You can do that [shake hands] whenever you like. It doesn’t have to be straight after the match. No, there was no reason why I didn’t shake his hand,” said Lagerback.

“I have a lot of respect for him and it is not a problem for me shaking his hand,’ he said.

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