Nigeria Finds World Cup Magic Against Iceland

Nigeria reinvigorated its World Cup campaign — and gave a boost to Argentina’s — with a 2-0 victory over Iceland in Volgograd on Friday. Ahmed Musa had both goals.

Nigeria looked sluggish in its opening loss to Croatia, and started slowly in this game too. Iceland had the better of the first half, getting six shots to Nigeria’s zero. But Nigeria stuck with its patient passing game, and it paid off in a far superior second half.

In the 49th minute, Victor Moses raced down the sideline and sent a cross into the box for Ahmed Musa. He controlled it nicely with his first touch, then used his second to slam it home.

Musa nearly got a second when his shot caromed off the top bar. Then a moment later, in the 75th minute, he latched onto a long ball, beat a defender and then the keeper, and poked the ball into an unguarded net.

“I have to thank my teammates and the coach who believed in me,” Musa said after the match. “We have to focus on the last game because that’s more important than today’s win.”

With eight minutes to go, Iceland seemed to have earned a chance to close the gap. When Alfred Finnbogason of Iceland was brought down with a whack on the calf from behind, there was initially no call. But a video review determined that it was a penalty.

Gylfi Sigurdsson was elected to take it, and he aimed for the top corner. But it sailed comfortably over the bar, ending Iceland’s hopes.

Croatia is now safely through to the next round from Group D. But the second spot is up for grabs.

Some of the happiest viewers of Friday’s game had to be the Argentine team. Had Iceland won, it would have been in a terrible spot to advance. Now it has a chance.

Argentina must beat Nigeria on Tuesday to be in position to advance. And even then, Iceland could sneak into the final spot on goal difference with a win over Croatia.

Nigeria can advance with a win over Argentina. If it draws, it could still go through, though Iceland can theoretically take its spot if it beats Croatia soundly enough.

Musa is familiar with Lionel Messi and Argentina. His two previous World Cup goals at the 2014 tournament in Brazil were in a group match against Argentina.

The stretcher is out for Obi Mikel, Nigeria’s holding midfielder. A possible wrist injury? He winds up leaving on his own power.

Iheanacho of Nigeria hooks a shot wide and then is immediately subbed for Ighalo.

Sigurdsson launches the penalty to the top corner. But it sails over! A chance for Iceland to get back in the game is spoiled.

Finnbogason of Iceland is brought down with a whack on the calf from behind. No initial penalty call, but after a video review, it’s called!

Musa fires a shot off the woodwork. And immediately afterward, he gets a second goal. He latches onto a long ball, beats a defender and then the keeper and has the net at his mercy.

Andrew Das: Ahmed Musa, who plays for Leicester City, is making himself quite a bit of money today.

Arnason heads the ball away near goal to give Nigeria a corner, then gets told off by keeper Halldorsson who could have just caught it. Nigeria’s shot off the corner whizzes over the bar.

Ndidi whips in a high shot that draws a leaping save from keeper Halldorsson.

Extended treatment for Sigurdsson of Iceland. He was belted in the head as the goal was scored. He is fitted with a head bandage, which, weirdly, is pink.

Victor Moses raced down the sideline and sent a cross into the box for Ahmed Musa. He controlled it nicely with his first touch, then used his second to slam it home. Nigeria leads!

Andrew Das: Musa earned every single bit of that goal. Won a header in the center of the field, fell down while doing it, scrambled to his feet, made up the ground, called for the cross, brought it down with a magnificent touch and then buried it off the short hop. That’s a full day in 10 seconds.

Six shots for Iceland, with two of them on goal. But a big zero for Nigeria. Iceland played a more direct style, while Nigeria built from the back, possessing the ball more and passing more and more accurately. But you do need to shoot to get a goal, ordinarily.

Free kick leads to a five-man Iceland rush to the net. It’s Finnbogason who gets a foot to it, but it’s wide. Should have done better there.

The cameras capture fans of both teams watching the game. Their Cups might be on the line, but frankly many of them look bored. Not a ton of action on the pitch.

A good Iceland cross whistles past the goal. Bjarnason and Bodvarsson run hard but each are half a step behind.

Bjarnason turns and shoots, but it goes far over the bar. Iceland leads in shots 3-0 now.

Just about everyone who sees them falls for Nigeria’s jerseys. Pale green and white zigzags on the body and then a black and white zigzag pattern on the arms. It was a sartorial gamble but it paid off.

There is, to put it mildly, a big discrepancy between these nations. Nigeria is a country of 180 million. Iceland has 330,000 citizens to select from. And that includes children and the elderly. Iceland is the smallest country ever to play in a World Cup.

Victor Moses of Nigeria gets clobbered by a high kick from Iceland, then seconds later is conked by a ball batted away by his keeper.

Nigeria gets the ball in the box three or four times in a row, but it’s cleared each time by Iceland. Nothing shot-like in the sequence. A corner follows, but it too is cleared. Many of the clearances were by the heads of the tall Iceland players.

Chances are thin so far, with the evenly matched game living up to its billing. No shots at all yet for Nigeria.

Sigurdsson forces a leaping save by Uzoho. That kick was going right in the upper corner. Good save.

Iceland in blue, Nigeria in cool lime green. Argentina fans will be following the game closely. Argentina is in a bad spot after a draw and a loss. But If Iceland wins here, it will be in an even worse spot.

Defenders: 14 Kari Arnason (Vikingur); 2 Birkir Saevarsson (Valur); 18 Hordur Magnusson (Bristol City); 2 Ragnar Sigurdsson (FC Rostov)

Midfielders: 8 Birkir Bjarnason (Aston Villa); 10 Gylfi Sigurdsson (Everton); 19 Rurik Gislason (SV Sandhausen); 17 Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City)

Forwards: 11 Alfred Finnbogason (Augsburg); 22 Jon Dadi Bodvarsson (Reading)

Defenders: 5 William Troost Ekong(Bursaspor); 2 Brian Idowu (Amkar Perm); 6 Leon Balogun (Brighton); 22 Kenneth Omeruo (Chelsea)

Midfielders: 10 John Mikel Obi (Tianjin Teda); 4 Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester); 8 Oghenekaro Etebo (CD Feirense)

Forwards: 7 Ahmed Musa (Leicester); 14 Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester); 11 Victor Moses (Chelsea)