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Nigeria, Iran play scoreless tie in World Cup opener

CURITIBA, Brazil -- Nigeria and Iran played the first draw of the World Cup yesterday as they ground out a scrappy 0-0 tie in their opening match in Group F.

The draw followed 12 mostly high scoring and attacking games.

After a first half in which Nigeria failed to capitalize on its dominance, there were few chances in the second.

In the early stages of play, Nigeria threatened, with much of its attack coming down the left with Emmanuel Emenike and Victor Moses combining to cause problems for defensive-minded Iran.

Nigeria came closest to scoring in the seventh minute when an apparent goal by Ahmed Musa was disallowed after John Obi Mikel was ruled to have fouled Iran goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi at a corner.

Iran grew more confident as the game progressed and came close to scoring in the 34th minute when Reza Ghoochannejhad's header required a sharp save from Nigeria keeper Vincent Enyeama.

In the second half, both sides played sloppily, to the growing annoyance of the mainly Brazilian crowd.

"They had 11 people behind the ball, which made it hard for us to create chances," Mikel said. "It's frustrating because they sat back."

Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi said his team became anxious when it failed to score during a dominant opening 25 minutes.

But he added: "Respect to Iran, they had their game plan to sit back and defend and they did well."

Keshi, who played for Nigeria at the 1994 World Cup, is already anticipating a backlash after the draw.

"Win or lose I'm criticized," said Keshi, whose side won last year's Africa Cup of Nations. "A draw now, I'll be criticized. It's part of the game. In my country, it's win at all costs and sometimes it doesn't go that way."

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz said the result was "fair" and that his players deserved "sympathy and respect" for performing on the biggest stage despite the impact of economic sanctions on the country, which made it difficult to arrange friendlies.

"We're not here to perform the role of the happy loser," Queiroz said. "The fans need to know the conditions we have endured for three years to get here."

New York Sports