OSAKA — It wasn’t the most spectacular of World Cup matches, but it was good enough for England, which advanced to the second round after a 0-0 draw against Nigeria in its final first-round game on Wednesday.
Sweden’s 1-1 draw with the Argentines at Miyagi Stadium in Wednesday’s other “Group of Death” match means that pre-tournament favorite Argentina has now joined defending champion France on the list of first-round victims.
With the results, the Swedes win Group F with England finishing second. Sweden and England were tied on points and also goal difference, but Sweden takes the group based on total goals scored (4-2).
Wednesday’s results mean that England will meet Group A winner Denmark in Niigata on Saturday, while Sweden will play Senegal in Oita on Sunday.
“The biggest surprise for me is that France and Argentina are out of the World Cup,” England’s Swedish manager Sven-Goran Eriksson said after the match. “You couldn’t expect that and nobody believed that (would happen). Argentina were the big, big favorite.”
Before a Nagai Stadium crowd almost totally decked out in the red and white of England, you could have mistaken it for a home match at old Wembley Stadium (with the exception of the muggy heat, of course).
Though England had several scoring chances on the day, overall it rated as a lackluster performance by both teams. As the game wore on, it was apparent that both sides were content with a draw, with England aiming to advance and Nigeria looking for its first point.
England, playing a 4-4-2 formation to Nigeria’s 3-5-2, threatened more than its opponent throughout the match, but couldn’t find the formula to produce a goal.
England captain David Beckham, wearing long sleeves on a 34-C day, made three beautiful centering passes from midfield to the edge of the area in the first seven minutes that Michael Owen and Paul Scholes couldn’t quite get a handle on to turn into serious threats.
“It is always difficult to play against an African team,” said England manager Eriksson. “They make you run a lot without the ball. It was very hot today.
“It was important for us today to control the game as we did nearly all the second half. With a little bit of luck, we could have scored as well.”
Eriksson was clearly pleased with the result under the conditions.
“I’m very happy. We played one good half against Sweden, 90 minutes against Argentina and OK against Nigeria.”
Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole were solid in defense for England, thwarting several scoring chances by Nigeria in the first 10 minutes alone.
Beckham nicely deflected a corner by Nigeria’s Jay Jay Okocha in the 17th minute with his Mohawk-style topped head.
England came close to scoring in the 19th minute on a through ball from Danny Mills that Emile Heskey got a foot on but wasn’t able to get much power behind and saw his shot stopped by Nigerian ‘keeper Vincent Enyeama.
A minute later, Beckham launched a laser from the edge of the area that Enyeama needed both hands to corral.
Okocha’s free-kick in the 31st minute was nearly converted by Julius Aghahowa, who rifled a right-foot volley on the fly that was turned away by England ‘keeper David Seaman.
Aghahowa scored Nigeria’s lone goal in a 2-1 loss to Sweden.
Owen had one of England’s best chances at scoring in the first half, when he faked a Nigerian out so badly that the defender fell down. Owen then accelerated past two more before getting off a shot on the run that was only deflected at the very last instant by a lunging tackle.
Seaman made another fine save in the 36th minute when he blocked a shot by Benedict Akwuegbu with both hands after the ball was fired at him full power from just 10 meters out.
Beckham provided another chance for England in the 41st minute, when he lofted a long pass into the area that Enyeama deflected. Owen pounced on the loose ball, but had his shot ricochet off a defender and out to Nicky Butt, who launched a long shot well over the goal.
England took the initiative in the final minutes of the first half, attacking relentlessly, and it nearly paid off in the 44th minute. Scholes took a pass from Butt and let fly with a right-foot blast well outside the area that Enyeama dove to his left to just get a hand on as it bounced off the post.
With Nigeria having already seen any chance of advancing in the event disappear, Nigerian coach Adegboye Onigbinde decided to empty his bench and gave four players a chance to see their first action of the tournament.
Two of the changes were up front, where Benedict Akwuegbu and Femi Opabunmi played well, while James Obiorah looked good in midfield, and Enyeama was superb in goal.
The sides shared the ball nearly equally in the first half, with Nigeria holding a slight edge in possession (52-48 percent).
Heskey created an excellent chance in the 59th minute, when he got the ball with his back to the goal, maneuvered away from a defender and sent a pass across the middle and right in front of the net, but Owen came sliding in an instant too late to knock it in.
Eriksson went to his bench in the 69th minute when Teddy Sheringham was brought on for Heskey, hoping to provide a spark to an offense which appeared to have become a bit flat.
In the 73rd minute, Joseph Yobo came close to scoring for Nigeria on a free-kick from just outside the area that just went wide.
England’s Trevor Sinclair then launched a cross in the 76th minute that Owen redirected to Sheringham directly in front of the goal, but Sheringham squandered the opportunity by sending a shot high over the bar.
Ashley Cole flew down the right flank for England in the 79th minute and struck a cross that was so precise it actually rolled across the top of the crossbar on the Nigerian goal before going out of play on the opposite side.
In the final 10 minutes, neither side appeared to have much energy left and it was clear that they were just looking for the clock to run out.
Darius Vassell, who came on for Owen in the 77th minute, snuck into the box for England’s final legitimate shot at scoring, in the 86th minute, getting a foot on a through ball but not with enough juice on it to produce a goal.
Beckham said the conditions made playing the match especially difficult.
“This game was different from the one against Argentina,” the England captain said. “It was a lot harder and tougher. Our next match will be at night against Denmark, so we are hoping (the weather) will be better.”
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