Shaqiri The Hat-trick Hero, Nigeria First African Team Through- 25/06/14

Today’s set of matches saw the teams in Group E and F hope to cement their place in the knockout stages of this competition. With France all but through in Group E after two hugely impressive victories over Honduras and Switzerland, the question now was who out of Honduras, Ecuador and Switzerland would go through with them. Honduras, whose goal difference is far inferior to the other two sides, faced Switzerland, whilst Ecuador had a tough match against France. Group F was a different story as Argentina were already through following victories in their opening two matches, and Nigeria only needed a point against them to go through. The only way they could go out was if they lost and Iran beat already eliminated Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Honduras 0-3 Switzerland

A hat-trick from midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri gave Switzerland the victory that put them through to the last 16 of the World Cup. Switzerland were on top from the start, and a defensive lapse from Honduras allowed Josip Drmic to run down the wing and put a teasing cross into the box that led to a good save from keeper Noel Valladares from Shaqiri. But he was not going to be denied and a couple of minutes later he unleashed a left-footed thunderbolt that Valladares couldn’t get anywhere near. On the half hour mark Switzerland doubled their lead with more sloppy defending from Honduras allowing Drmic to put the ball on a plate for Shaqiri, who put the ball past the keeper to seemingly all but end Honduras’ hopes of qualifying.

The second half started with Honduras having a golden opportunity to equalise, but Ricardo Rodriguez was there at the right time to clear Jerry Bengtson’s goalbound shot off the line. Honduras were then denied what looked to be a decent shout for a penalty when Wilson Palacios was nudged in the back chasing a ball, but neither the referee nor his assistant gave the decision. That decision would prove to be the final nail in Honduras’ coffin when a long ball from Rodriguez found Drmic who, after running to the byline and cutting in, once again found Shaqiri. He slotted the ball past Valladares to score his hat-trick and guaranteed Switzerland’s place in the last 16, where they will face a tough match against Argentina.

Ecuador 0-0 France

France finished top of Group E despite being frustrated to a goalless draw at the hands of Ecuador, who were eliminated from the competition. But the match could have been a whole lot worse for them as in the early stages when Mamadou Sakho appeared to have aimed at elbow at the face of Oswaldo Minda when France were taking a free kick. A free kick from a similar position then found the head of Paul Pogba who forced an acrobatic save from Ecuadorian keeper Alexander Dominguez. Enner Valencia then leapt way above the French defence to direct a header towards goal, but Hugo Lloris was there to make a relatively straightforward save with his legs as the first half finished goalless.

The second half started with Dominguez continuing to have a great match when he deflected Antoine Griezmann’s header from very close range onto the post with a reaction save. Ecuador needed a win in order to progress, and their uphill struggle became even harder when captain Antonio Valencia was sent off for a seemingly accidental scraping of his boots along the leg of a sliding Lucas Digne. However Ecuador seemed to not be affected by this as a quick break led to Enner Valencia finding Cristhian Noboa, but he wasted the chance as the ball went tamely wide. Pogba then wasted another glorious chance with his header at the far post going across the face of goal and wide, whilst Lloris still had to be alert with the odd Ecuador chance coming towards his goal. Dominguez then made one final good save from Karim Benzema following link-up play with Oliver Giroud, but it wasn’t enough as Ecuador bravely went out of the World Cup, whilst France will play Nigeria in the last 16.

Group E Final Standings

Country W  D  L  GD  Pts
1) FRA      2   1   0  +6    7
2) SWI      2   0   1  +1    6
3) ECU     1   1   1   0      4
4) HON   0   0   3   -7    0

Nigeria 2-3 Argentina

Argentina had already qualified for the last 16 prior to this match following two victories in their opening two group matches. Nigeria on the other hand needed some kind of result and hope that Iran slip up in the other match. The game exploded into life in just the third minute when Angel Di Maria was played through on goal but his shot rebounded off the woodwork and eventually into the path of Lionel Messi, who smashed the ball into the roof of the net. But Nigeria quickly broke up field and the ball fell to Ahmed Musa on the edge of the penalty area and he, despite the angle being against him, cut in and curled a shot past the Argentinian keeper Sergio Romero to equalise just 80 seconds after falling behind. A low speedy shot from Di Maria from outside the area then had to be pushed past the post by Vincent Enyeama as the game stayed open. Just before half time Argentina re-took the lead, this time a piece of magic from a 25 yard Lionel Messi free kick completely wrong footed Enyeama to make it 2-1 to Argentina.

However, once again Argentina conceded within the first few minutes of the half, and Nigeria were again level courtesy of an Ahmed Musa goal. He played a one-two with Emmanuel Emenike which led to him being put through on goal and he put the ball past Romero for the second time in the match. But it seemed that neither team were able to not concede straight after scoring, and yet again Argentina went in front, when a Ezequiel Lavezzi corner came off the knee of Marcos Rojo and into the back of the net, to the frustration of Enyeama. Di Maria then had a chance to make the result beyond doubt in the closing stages but was once again denied by Enyeama. Despite that Argentina held on, and Iran’s defeat in the other Group F match meant that Nigeria finished as runners-up, becoming the first African nation to progress at this World Cup, and will play France in the last 16.

Argentina's Lionel Messi scores his second goal against Nigeria from a free-kick in Group F.

Take Aim: Lionel Messi scoring his second goal of the match in the    3-2 win against Nigeria with a brilliant free kick.

Bosnia & Herzegovina 3-1 Iran

Bosnia & Herzegovina won their first ever World Cup match and in doing do, eliminated their Iranian opposition from the tournament. From the start Bosnia looked like the side more likely to open the scoring, with Edin Dzeko forcing a smart save from Alireza Haghighi. That early warning was not taken by Iran and they were punished when Dzeko launched a low shot from 25 yards out that crept into the corner of the net. Iran almost equalised straight away though when Masoud Shojaei’s shot cannoned off the crossbar, however Asmir Begovic was there to stop a follow-up strike from occurring.

The first real action in the second half occurred when Bosnia doubled their advantage; Miralem Pjanic stayed onside to place a shot in the far corner past Haghighi. Saed Kolasinac then tried a cheeky shot from the byline, but this time the keeper was in the right place to save at his near post and keep Iran within striking distance. But with 8 minutes to go Iran were right back in the match, as Bosnia were unable to clear their lines following a corner and Reza Ghoochannejad couldn’t miss with an open goal in front of him. But immediately after the restart, a counter-attack put Avdija Vrsajevic through on goal, and he scored to break Iranian hearts and give Bosnia at least something to show for in their first ever World Cup.

Group F Final Standings

Country  W  D  L  GD  Pts
1) ARG     3    0   0  +3    9
2) NGA    1    1   1    0     4
3) BIH       1    0   2    0     3
4) IRN       0    1   2   -3    1

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