Nigeria’s Super Eagles may have been on the back foot and defensive for most of the game, but they battled hard, fought hard and drew first blood in the draw against Brazil on Sunday in Singapore.
Joe Aribo scored first in the 35th minute, his second goal in just his second cap for the team while Casimero equalised for Brazil in the 48th minute.
The low point of the game from the Nigerian perspective had to be the injury to Francis Uzoho who was taken off in the second half after he fell awkwardly from an aerial challenge.
For the Brazilians, and maybe Paris St Germain, it would no doubt be Neymar hobbling off injured after eleven minutes.
Both sides battled hard
A strong and competent performance by the Super Eagles earned a draw, 1-1 against five-time world champions Brazil.
Both teams started with good pace, passion and intensity at the Singapore National Stadium in Kallang and after only two minutes, Roberto Firmino’s turn and shot flew away from the Nigerian goal.
Three minutes later, the three-time African champions waltzed their way into the Brazilian vital area but Victor Osimhen’s shot was palmed away by goalkeeper Ederson.
Brazil’s France –based forward Neymar was forced to quit the game after only 12 minutes, due to injury, but seven minutes later Marquinhos could have put Nigeria in front with a bizarre own goal after his attempt to clear Chukwueze’s pull-out went wrong.
Villarreal FC of Spain’s Chukwueze, a former Nigeria U17 World Cup winner, was a thorn in the flesh of the Selecao throughout, and created chances for Nigeria in the 20th and 24th minute but Osimhen was cut out by an alert Brazilian rear.
In the 28th minute, Nigeria goalkeeper Francis Uzoho showed excellent agility in cutting out a powerful header by the ubiquitous Gabriel Jesus. Two minutes later, Uzoho was again alert to foil a shot by Firmino and then reacted faster than Philip Coutinho as the ball danced in the box.
In the 35th minute, Nigeria broke through again, this time mining gold. Joseph Ayodele-Aribo, who scored on his debut in the friendly against Ukraine in Dnipro last month, kept his cool and showed cleverness in taking a pass from Moses Simon and ghosting past Casemiro and Thiago Silva to shoot past Ederson for the opener.
The goal expectedly stung the Selecao into greater intensity and desperation, but they could have conceded again two minutes later only for Wilfred Ndidi to shoot directly at Ederson from a counter-attack.
In the 40th minute, stand-in captain William Ekong, who had a great game alongside central defence partner Semi Ajayi, cleared as Jesus lobbed into the Nigerian box, and four minutes later, a free-kick by Coutinho whistled past Uzoho’s post though he had it well covered.
Pressure pays off for the Selecao
In the second half, the Selecao launched onslaught after onslaught and equalized in the 48th minute as Casemiro reacted faster than the defence when the ball bounced off the crossbar from a Marquinhos header.
The South Americans then swarmed on the Nigeria rear to get more goals but found the Eagles super-resilient, with Chidozie Awaziem, Jamilu Collins, Ndidi and goalscorer Aribo brilliantly complementing Ekong and Ajayi.
In the 53rd minute, Osimhen leapt between two defenders but his header was not strong enough to rattle Ederson. Three minutes later, Uzoho pulled another big save from a Gabriel Jesus header.
Uzoho out, Okoye in
On the hour, the Cyprus –based Uzoho, who was Nigeria’s number one goalkeeper at last year’s FIFA World Cup finals in Russia, had to leave the session after twisting his leg as he went for the ball from a Brazilian corner.
His replacement, Maduka Okoye, was not much troubled though he showed calmness.
In the closing stages, Semi Ajayi was excellent with some game-saving interventions at the Nigerian rear.
The Super Eagles begin their race to the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations with qualifying matches against Benin Republic and Lesotho next month and their last two friendlies against Ukraine and Brazil would have proved top test games for them.
It was also a huge improvement from Nigeria’s 0-3 defeat to the Selecao in a friendly match in Abuja on June 2003.