The Nigerian trio of Mikel, Moses, and Omeruo were Chelsea's last three players in action on this Wednesday of much frivolous FIFA-friendly farce, but at least for a while there at the start, they looked like they might actually deliver something exciting and excellent. Alas...
Surrounded by a raucous homer crowd in Mexico's footballing home away from home (i.e.: The United States of America, excepting maybe Columbus, OH and Seattle, WA), Nigeria faced immense pressure from the get-go. That El Tri's two strikers, Oribe Peralta and Javier Hernandez, assumed a sprinter's stance at kickoff was just the initial indicator.
Fortunately for Stephen Keshi, Mikel's biggest strength is keeping the ball under pressure and it was the Chelsea man's cool, calm, and collectedness even when surrounded by three red shirts that allowed Nigeria to start the match on the front foot. Interestingly, Mikel was deployed in a position much more similar to his Chelsea ways than his usual national team role, playing deeper in midfield and allowing the lanky and amazingly tall (194cm!) Michael Uchebo to provide the attacking support. I'm not sure Keshi will opt to repeat that experiment again.
Yet Mexico's eagerness and crowd-aided frenzy also worked against them, as their hasty, haphazard play gifted the visitors several opportunities. The Super Eagles routinely carved the hosts open, drawing several excellent saves from Guillermo Ochoa in the Mexican goal. In the first fifteen minutes alone, Ogenyi Onazi, Emmanuel Emenike, and Victor Moses all came within inches of finding the opener, while Ahmed Musa looked set to surely bag a year's worth of goals.
The stereotypical narrative was that the match pitted Nigeria's physical superiority against Mexico's technical one, but for the first quarter of the match, Nigeria dominated every facet of play. They threatened from open play, on counters, and from set pieces as well with Moses cradling several good-looking balls in to the far post from which Omeruo always looked favorite to test the goalkeeper. That no actual result came to pass from any such opportunity was a herald of things to come.
It took Mexico a good 25 minutes to settle, but after that, it seemed like just a matter of time before they'd find the back of the net. Completely flipping the script, it was Mexico who were superior in all phases. And while Kenneth Omeuro and Godfrey Oboabona played well enough, Nigeria's clean sheet had much, much more to do with Mexico's profligacy and a string of excellent saves from both Vincent Enyeama (first half) and Austin Ejide (second half).
Both Omeruo and Mikel played out the full 90 scoreless minutes, while a rather facepalm-y Victor Moses (effort: yes; brains: no) was withdrawn not long after the hour mark. So, if you're keeping track, that's seven non-goalkeepers (Cahill, Matic, Ivanovic, Azpilicueta, Eto'o, Ba, and now Mikel) who added the maximum amount of wear and tear onto their bodies this Wednesday. Hurray for international breaks!