Super Eagles' winning streak ends with 0-2 loss to Serbia as they succumb to two second half goals

NIGERIA'S winning run in World Cup friendly matches came to an end last night when the Super Eagles lost 0-2 to Serbia in London last night succumbing to two second half goals despite dominating the game for lengthy periods.


In the match played at Barnet FC's The Hives Stadium, Aleksandar Mitrović, the Newcastle striker currently on loan to Fulham, scored in the 68th and 80th minute to give the Serbs victory. Coming off the back of a 1-2 loss to Morocco in front of their home fans on Friday, the victory was a much-needed morale booster for Serbia as they prepare for the World Cup.


On the other hand, Nigeria's Super Eagles had beaten Poland 1-0 last Friday so the friendly was more of a training session, with the boys playing within themselves. This, coupled with the fact that head coach Gernot Rohr made several changes and tried out a few new tactical alterations, saw the Eagles playing several gears below their capability.


Since qualifying for the World Cup, Nigeria has been on a relentless winning streak, beating Argentina 4-2 in Russia last November before last week victory over Poland. This had set alarm bells ringing with the Eagles seen as favourites to top their World Cup group which comprises of Argentina, Croatia and Iceland.


On a chilly night, Nigeria started off the brighter of the two sides with the midfield trio of skipper Ogenyi Onazi, Wilfred Ndidi and Joel Obi dominating possession in the middle of the park. However, their domination did not lead to much creativity upfront at the forward line of Victor Moses, Alex Iwobi and the  makeshift centre forward Ahmed Musa found it hard to get past a very physical Serb defence.


Serbian goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic, was also in fine form, parrying early, although in all fairness was too was Nigeria's Francis Uzoho, who has easily established himself as the country's undisputed number one. In the early exchanges, Uzoho parried a series of stinging shots from Mitrovic and Branislav Ivanovic while he also stopped winger Dusan Tadic from scoring after he had a run on goal.


Around the 30th minute, Serbia thought they had scored but English referee Craig Pawson ruled that the ball had not crossed the line. After that, Serbia tried pressing for a goal but the young Eagles backline of Tyronne Ebuehi, William Ekong, Chigozie Awaziem and Brian Idowu held firm.


Upfront, Alex Iwobi, who was having arguably his best ever game for Nigeria, remained the main threat and a series of combinations with the twinkle-toed Victor Moses nearly resulted in a goal but the dogged Serb defence held firm. Led by former Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic, the Serbian back three repeatedly put their bodies in the way of goal-bound shots and were prepared to take a lot of punishment for the team.


Both teams ended the first half relatively satisfied and at the restart, Coach Rohr replaced Victor Moses with Odion Ighalo, who took up a central striking position, with Musa moving out wide. Ighalo made an immediate impact, holding the ball up and matching the Serb defence physically, thus freeing up Iwobi to mesmerise with a series of mazy runs that delighted the crowd.


In the 65th minute, Serbia also made a substitution, taking off their big star, Manchester United's Nemanja Matic and replacing him with Marko Grujic. Shortly after that, Serbia scored after Mitrović picked up the ball on the edge of the area following a catalogue of failed clearances by the Nigeria defence and slotted the ball past a helpless Uzoho.


Providing the game with just the tonic it needed, the goal livened things up a bit as the Eagles pressed forward in search of an equaliser. Musa, Ighalo and Iwobi all came close but the Serb defence held firm and Stojkovic too was having a great game in goal.


Coach Rohr made several more changes as the half wore on with Ola Aina coming on for Idowu, John Ogu replacing Onazi, Moses Simon coming on for Joel Obi, Mikel Agu coming on for Wilfred Ndidi and Oluwafemi Ajayi replacing Alex Iwobi. However, it was the Serbs who had the final say, finding the back of the net for the second time in the 80th minute when Mitrovic right-footed a shot from the centre of the box to the bottom right corner, assisted by Filip Kostic.


Playing upfront alongside Southampton's Dusan Tadic in a 3-5-2 formation, Mitrovic had a fine evening, which delighted Serbian coach Mladen Krstajic. In his post-match press conference, Mr Krstajic said he was particularly pleased with the reaction of his players after the Morocco defeat and the way they adapted to the new formation.


He added: "I am pleased with my players for coming back after the loss and am delighted about the fact that we won the game well. Now, as we prepare for the World Cup, we need to work on all facets of our play including speed, flair and physicality."


In his post-match conference, Mr Rohr said: "I am sitting here smiling after the loss because if we had won, everyone would have expected us to win the World Cup. Sometimes, it is good to lose as it enables you to see things that are wrong with your team.


"I am pleased with the fact that this match allowed us to test some new players and try a few new things. Also, I had a very young defence and can tell you that this is the youngest defence I have ever played with in my football career."


Nigeria's next friendly game will be against the Democratic Republic of Congo in Uyo in May 28, after which the team will come to play England at Wembley on June 2. Mr Rohr said the team will then play the Czech Republic on June 6 in Austria and may even squeeze one more match in after arriving in Russia for the World Cup.


Last night, Nigeria's World Cup opponents Argentina suffered a humiliating 1-6 loss to Spain, whole Croatia ended a losing streak by beating Mexico 1-0, who had beaten Iceland 3-0 last week. Iceland for her part suffered her second consecutive defeat in two games, succumbing to a 1-3 loss to Peru in New Jersey, who had beaten Croatia 2-0 last week.


Eagles line-up: 4-3-3

Francis Uzoho

Tyronne Ebuehi

Brian Idowu (Ola Aina)

William Ekong

Chigozie Awaziem

Wilfred Ndidi (Mikel Agu)

Joel Obi (Simon Moses)

Ogenyi Onazi (John Ogu)

Victor Moses (Odion Ighalo)

Ahmed Musa

Alex Iwobi (Oluwafemi Ajayi)