CUIABA, Brazil — Nigeria ended a 16-year wait for a victory in a World Cup match Saturday, beating Bosnia-Herzegovina 1-0 courtesy of Peter Odemwingie’s first-half goal and knocking the tournament newcomers out of contention.
Only a point is needed by Nigeria from its last Group F game — against already-qualified Argentina — to reach the knockout stage after Odemwingie finished from close range in the 29th minute following one of many powerful runs by his strike partner Emmanuel Emenike.
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Playing hours after Ghana’s plucky 2-2 draw with Germany, Nigeria gave African football another lift following its continent’s inauspicious start to the tournament. Prior to Saturday, the five African teams had claimed just one win and a draw in seven matches in Brazil.
"It’s something awesome for Africa," said Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, who tipped Edin Dzeko’s shot onto the post in the final few seconds to preserve the win. "Africa needed that win, something to boost the confidence back home."
The Bosnians are sure to go home after the group stage, and will wonder if things may have gone differently had Dzeko’s goal in the 21st minute not been ruled out for offside. Replays appeared to show the officials may have got the call wrong.
"The referee was shameful for this competition," Dzeko said.
But Nigeria deserved its win, with Emenike causing all sorts of problems for Bosnia-Herzegovina’s defence with his strength and direct running in energy-sapping conditions in the western Brazilian city of Cuiaba. At the other end, the experienced Joseph Yobo was back as captain and marshalled the defence in his 99th international game. Dzeko and the Bosnians’ technical midfielders carved out few clear-cut opportunities.
"They surprised us with their speed and movement," Bosnia-Herzegovina coach Safet Susic said. "They wanted to win probably that much more than us."
There was added motivation for Keshi’s team, which was seeking to boost the spirits of Nigerians in the wake of a suicide bombing attack at a World Cup viewing site in the northeast of their country. At least 14 people died in the blast.
After weathering a bright start by the Bosnians, Nigeria went ahead when Emenike powered past the tame challenge of Bosnia defender Emir Spahic, charged down the right flank and crossed for Odemwingie, who shot first-time through the legs of goalkeeper Asmir Begovic — his teammate at English club Stoke.
Odemwingie is back in the World Cup squad after two years away from the national team following a falling-out with Keshi, and he was starting after an impressive cameo as a substitute in the 0-0 draw with Iran.
"I couldn’t dream of a better comeback in a tournament like the World Cup," Odemwingie said. "I have had to start building from scratch. Everyone had faith in me."
After the goal, Nigeria dominated and only a slew of smart saves by Begovic, who denied Michael Babatunde and Emenike, prevented the African champions from going further ahead.
Dzeko — compared with Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar by Susic in the build-up to the match — had a disappointing night, with his finishing off-key and control poor at times. When he did find the target, he was either denied by the officials or by that late, brilliant save from Enyeama.
The Bosnians have one game left, against Iran on Wednesday, to try to end their debut World Cup with at least a point to show for their efforts.