By Mike Collett
LONDON, May 28 (Reuters) - An experimental Nigeria side featuring mainly fringe players and hopefuls began their World Cup warm-ups with a 2-2 draw with Scotland on Wednesday in a hugely entertaining game at Craven Cottage.
Although the African champions only rescued a draw with a 90th minute strike from substitute Uche Nwofor, they deserved it as they showed plenty of ambition, drive and attacking flair to encourage coach Stephen Keshi. His side face Iran, Bosnia and Argentina in World Cup Group F next month.
Scotland went ahead through Charlie Mulgrew after 10 minutes before Michael Uchebo equalised for Nigeria four minutes before the break. Scotland regained the lead when Azubuike Egwuekwe put through his own net after 52 minutes before Nwofor struck just before the end.
There was a superb atmosphere outside Fulham's ground next to the River Thames prior to kickoff and an even better one inside with Scottish bagpipes swirling in the air to the beat of Nigerian drums.
One Nigerian fan held up a banner reading "Nigerians Don't Fix Matches, We Win Them!" in response to a report from Britain's National Crime Agency to the Scottish FA that Asian gamblers had targetted the match to fix.
There was no evidence during the game that it was anything other than above board.
Keshi told reporters he had wanted to see some of the new players and liked what he saw, even though he understood they were under pressure to impress him.
"It is going to be tough to choose the final squad, we have so many good players to choose from and no players have got a definite seat on plane," he said.
Scottish coach Gordon Strachan, asked what he thought of Nigeria's chances in Brazil, quipped: "Better than ours."
Scotland, who have not qualified for the World Cup but are now unbeaten in their last six matches, still had plenty to play for with Strachan honing his team for the Euro 2016 qualifiers that start later this year.
It was a fortunate opener though, with James Morrison's booming shot hitting Mulgrew's upraised foot. Mulgrew had his back to the goal but nevertheless sent the ball looping over goalkeeper Austin Ejide and into the net.
Nigeria equalised after 41 minutes when the tall, powerfully-built Uchebo shot from the edge of the box and wheeled away in delight as the ball took a wicked deflection off Grant Hanley, wrong-footing goalkeeper Allan McGregor.
Scotland regained the lead when defender Alan Hutton played in a precise ball from the byline and with Hanley forcing in his shot, Egwuekwe turned the ball into the roof of his own net.
Nwofor equalised with an angled shot after Scotland failed to stop a Nigerian attack, and although Scotland had two goals disallowed, one for a foul on the Nigerian keeper and another for offside, the result was a fair one.
Nigeria continue their build up for the World Cup with two friendlies in the United States early next month against Greece and the U.S. (Editing by Mark Meadows)
- Sports & Recreation
- Charlie Mulgrew
- Stephen Keshi