There is a theme slowly developing at the World Cup. If you're a defender and you're under contract at Chelsea for next season, you will basically be relied on exclusively by your nation to try to keep the opposition at bay. Be that Cesar Azpilicueta for Spain, Gary Cahill for England, or Kenneth Omeruo for Nigeria, if Chelsea is your name, defending is your game.
Unsurprisingly, before today, none of the three had tasted victory. Azpilicueta and Cahill have been on the losing end twice, while Nigeria managed just a draw against Iran in their first game. Seeing today's lineup, with Mikel once again dropped into deeper, defensive midfield rather than the customary number 10 role for his country, we feared a much similar performance and result.
Fortunately, Stephen Keshi had another trick up his sleeve: dropping Victor Moses in favor of Michel Babatunde, a 21-year-old unknown on the international stage (just a handful of appearances for Nigeria) who plies his trade in Ukraine. His speed, combined with the direct, powerful running of Emmanuel Emenike, Peter Odemwingie, and Ahmed Musa created multiple mismatches along Bosnia's backline, allowing the Super Eagles to sit back and counter at will. This game plan, unlike the more possession-oriented one against Iran justified Mikel's continued defensive role. More importantly, it put Kenneth Omeruo into the spotlight, where the 20-year-old wasted no time in making yet another star turn.
We often talk about the defender's previous eye-catching efforts against Didier Drogba and Luis Suárez. Now we can add another vanquished center forward to that list: Edin Dzeko. Dzeko may not be the most illustrious name among Europe's striker elite, but his goals have been instrumental in Manchester City winning the league and Bosnia and Herzegovina qualifying for the World Cup. With the whole team set up to play through and to him, Omeruo's task was always going to be a tough one. Yet, outside of a couple lapses in concentration in the first half -- Dzeko getting a step on the defense to collect a through ball in the 24th (though Omeruo recovered in time to pressure the shot) and pulling off to get on the end of a cutback in the 44th -- and that one last chance at the end,* which did have a hint of handball from Dzeko, Omeruo was stellar. His 1-v-1 defending was almost flawless, while he also seemed to take charge of organizing the defense despite playing next to the much more experienced Joseph Yobo. Especially after right back Efe Ambrose played Dzeko onside for the wrongly disallowed goal.
* ok, that was a most Ochoa-esque save from Vincent Enyeama
With that gift from the linesman, Nigeria might consider themselves lucky to walk away with the win. At the same time, with Omeruo standing tall, Nigeria have yet to concede in the World Cup. Surely they can't keep that record going against Argentina, can they?