Nigeria ruined Ireland’s pre-World Cup send-off on Thursday, beating the home side 2-1 in a friendly international at Lansdowne Road.
A capacity crowd of over 42,600 had turned out for a last chance to see Mick McCarthy’s team before they depart for Saipan on Friday morning, but it was the visitors who gave their World Cup preparations a boost, punishing Irish defensive lapses with goals from Julius Aghahowa and Efe Sodje.
Stephen Reid, a late call up to the Ireland squad after the withdrawal through injury of Mark Kennedy, pulled a goal back, and a late Mark Kinsella effort was disallowed.
McCarthy began the game with the team he is likely to pick for Ireland’s opening World Cup tie against Cameroon, with the main talking point his decision to partner Matt Holland rather than Kinsella alongside captain Roy Keane in central midfield.
The home side made most of the early running, but it was Nigeria who struck the first blow after 13 minutes.
A lovely, lofted pass from Austin « jay jay » Okacha in the NIgerian midfield split the Irish defence wide open, and Aghahowa raced through to calmly slot the ball past Shay Given.
Ireland continued to create chances, with first a Robbie Keane header and then a thunderous shot form Holland forcing saves from Ike Shoronmu in the Nigerian goal.
Just before halftime Robbie Keane should have equalised. A cross from Jason McAteer on the right flank found the Leeds United striker unmarked on the edge of the six yard box, but his header was misdirected and passed wide of Shoronmu’s left hand post.
Barely a minute into the second half Nigeria were further in front. Lax marking at a corner gave Sodje a free header at the back post, and the right-back made no mistake.
As the second half wore on McCarthy made a string of substitutions, and his side struggled to find fluency.
But it was one of the replacements, Millwalls’s Reid, who gave the Irish some hope in the 68th minute, cutting in from the right flank and dancing through the Nigerian defence before unleashing a left footed shot into the top corner of the goal.
Ireland continued to press, and three minutes from the end another substitute, Charlton midfielder Kinsella found the net, only to see the goal ruled out by the Portuguese referee for offside.
McCarthy said: « We had chance after chance. I think we deserved an equaliser. We should have won that game. Overall I’m very pleased with the performance but disappointed with the result.
« Hopefully, we can play as well as that in the World Cup and get results. »
Ireland face African Nations Cup winners Cameroon as well as Germany and Saudi Arabia in group E. « It’s shown us that Cameroon aren’t (going to be) any mugs. I think they are better than Nigeria, » said McCarthy.
Nigeria are drawn in Group F, along with Argentina, England and Sweden.