A strong and competent performance by the Super Eagles earned a 1-1 draw against five –time world champions Brazil in a prestige international friendly in Singapore on Sunday night.
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.
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 Super 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. 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 result was a huge confidence booster for the Super Eagles, who begin their race to the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations with qualifying matches against Benin Republic and Lesotho next month. It was also a huge improvement from Nigeria’s 0-3 defeat to the Selecao in a friendly match in Abuja in June 2003.