An exciting and often breathless friendly ended all square as the Super Eagles and El Tri battled to a 2-2 draw in the Reliant Stadium, Texas
Nigeria and Mexico played out a tantalising, and at times, breathless, 2-2 friendly in Houston’s Reliant Stadium. A Chicharito strike was cancelled out by an Ideye Brown penalty, and with Mexico down to ten men following the dismissal of Pablo Barrera, Nigeria took the initiative through a deflected John Ogu strike.
Unfortunately, their lead was not to last, and Chicharito popped up once again in the second half to save face for El Tri.
Heading into the contest, both teams were in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable predicament; being unbeaten in five—as the pair were—ought to inspire confidence, but instead there was unease and uncertainly.
Nigeria, shorn of some of their finest attacking talents, beset by internal strife and player politics, and reeling after an unsatisfactory home draw with Kenya in World Cup qualifying, approached the game under massive pressure.
Mexico, meanwhile, had problems of their own; some disappointing results prompting malaise within the camp.
The early stages saw the North Americans prosper. Keeping a fast tempo, using their pace down the flanks, and swamping the midfield, Mexico sought to take control and put pressure on the Nigeria backline.
In midfield, Ogenyi Onazi and Sunday Mba battled manfully—the former particularly tireless—but were generally overwhelmed, with Mexico seizing the initiative in the middle of the pitch and the heart of the contest.
It was a massive test for the two midfielders—both revelations at the Cup of Nations. Who could have imagined, only a year ago, that these two would be headlining the Super Eagles midfield heading into such an important period of fixtures?
Eventually, after a few close shaves, the pressure told, and Pablo Barrera fed Chicharito through on goal on 21 minutes. The Manchester United forward didn’t need a second opportunity to profit from some particularly shoddy defending from Godfrey Oboabona and Kenneth Omeruo, and sent a simple finish past Austin Ejide—deputising for Vincent Enyeama in the Nigeria goal.
At this point, Mexico were firmly in the ascendency.
But in football, as in life, fate often plays unexpected tricks, and from a position of absolute disarray, Nigeria suddenly found the initiative swinging firmly to their corner.
After some over-elaboration from the previously impressive Andres Guardado, Onazi regained possession in the midfield. He was quick to play through the forwards, and a quick interchange forced a smart save from Coruna in the Mexican net. Unfortunately, the rebound was saved in similar fashion by the previously-impressive Barrera.
The block, interpreted as a goal-denying handball by the referee, warranted a straight red card and a penalty; Ideye Brown made no mistake, and stepped up to confidently spank the ball past Corona.
From this point, Mexico shrank, while Nigeria grew into the African champions they are. Further attacking forays forward were met by firm resistance, until the ball was cut back to John Ogu on 40 minutes.
The assist was inviting, and the midfielder’s brave strike flew in past the stranded Corona after a cruel deflection off veteran anchor man Gerardo Torrado. In the blink of an eye the complexion of the contest had changed, and the advantage lay firmly with Nigeria.
Ignoring a horrible miss by Aldo Di Negris at the death of the first 45, it was the West Africans who sought to dominate the game, clearly keen to make the most of their man advantage.
The second half began much as the first ended, with the Super Eagles now looking the more adventurous and the more likely to secure another goal.
However, as they struggled to find a convincing rhythm in attack, Mexico—perhaps inspired by the partisan crowd—pushed forward. Eventually, the North Americans found an equaliser.
Former Fulham man Carlos Salcido, perpetually dangerous down the left side, sent in a delectable ball at the second time of asking, and Chicharito made no mistake.
The poacher demonstrated sublime movement, positioning and finishing to nip in ahead of Enyeama—a half-time substitute, and hit an equaliser with a smart finish.
As the second half came to a close, it was Mexico that looked more likely to find the winner—despite their numerical deficit. Twice, Enyeama showed his class—athletically preserving his six yard box, before saving sharply at his near post.
Nigeria battled hard in midfield, and often sought to find cohesion in the final third, but ultimately struggled to get in behind the Mexican defence—an Oduamadi deflected shot which hit the crossbar being a notable exception.
A 2-2 result will be more encouraging for Mexico, particularly after the first half dismissal of Barrera. Nigeria, with so many key personnel absent, struggled for rhythm, and were often left exposed in defence. Still, the performance of Ogenyi Onazi, and the contributions of the wide players, can be regarded with optimism ahead of a crucial summer.