Nigeria beat Iceland 2-0 to revive their hopes of advancing into the knockout stages of the World Cup in Russia on Friday as striker Ahmed Musa dramatically marked his return to the team with two fine second-half goals.
The result pushed Nigeria up to the second qualifying spot in Group D but both sides, and struggling Argentina, are still in the hunt to go through along with already-qualified Croatia.
However, Argentina and World Cup debutants Iceland must win their respective games against Nigeria and Croatia next week to have any chance of advancing. Nigeria could qualify with a draw if Iceland fail to beat Croatia.
In only the second win for an African side in the Russia World Cup so far, Nigeria broke a stale deadlock in the heat of southern Russia in the 49th minute when wing-back Victor Moses lofted a pass towards Musa who deftly controlled the ball and smashed in the half volley.
Musa was on the bench for Nigeria’s limp defeat to Croatia in their opening game in Russia, and the announcement of the Leicester City striker’s name in the starting team on Friday drew thunderous cheers from Super Eagles fans before the game.
He made it 2-0 in the 75th minute when he used his pace to beat Iceland defender Kari Arnason and rounded goalkeeper Hannes Por Halldorsson before slamming the ball into the net.
Iceland, who caused one of the biggest upsets in the tournament so far by holding two-time champions Argentina to a draw on Saturday, won a penalty when referee Matt Conger used the Video Assisted Referee system to confirm that striker Alfred Finnbogason had been fouled by Tyronne Ebuehi in the 80th minute.
But playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson, Iceland’s most gifted player of his generation, blasted his kick high over the bar.
The win vindicated the decision of Nigeria’s German coach Gernot Rohr to overhaul his attack after the 2-0 loss to Croatia, bringing in Musa and Kelechi Iheanacho at the expense of strikers Odion Ighalo and Alex Iwobi.
He also moved to a system using three central defenders flanked by wing backs, which seemed to give Nigeria more zip, and told John Obi Mikel to play deeper in midfield.
Rohr said his side would not fear Argentina when they meet on Tuesday. “We will play to win the game,” he said. “We played them in a friendly but there was no Messi then,” he said, referring to Nigeria’s 4-2 in a friendly when Lionel Messi was absent.
“We know we can do it, our confidence is coming back.” Iceland, the smallest country ever to play in a World Cup, were roared on by an army of their fans.
But they missed the pace of winger Johann Berg Gudmundsson who was injured in the Argentina game.
Coach Heimir Hallgrimsson said things had been going to plan with the scores 0-0 at halftime but the heat of Volgograd, with temperatures of around 30 degrees Celsius (86°F) throughout the game, sapped his team.
“That’s a strange fact that we still are in the race, and that’s fun,” he said. “We didn’t think we would go through this World Cup without a loss. Losses are always hard to swallow. We only need to win (over) Croatia – but that might be easier said than done.”