Nigeria extend unbeaten run

Nigeria 1 Jamaica 0
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The Independent Online

The colour and cacophony of the World Cup came to west London yesterday as England's group opponents, Nigeria, edged past Jamaica to win the Unity Cup, which it is hoped will become an annual event. The hosts, Queen's Park Rangers, given their financial problems, should try to ensure that happens, for the ground was packed with more than 16,000 wildly enthusiastic supporters of the two countries.

The colour and cacophony of the World Cup came to west London yesterday as England's group opponents, Nigeria, edged past Jamaica to win the Unity Cup, which it is hoped will become an annual event. The hosts, Queen's Park Rangers, given their financial problems, should try to ensure that happens, for the ground was packed with more than 16,000 wildly enthusiastic supporters of the two countries.

In Japanese conditions – hot early on, then heavily overcast – the smell of sweet substances floated on the breeze and vans outside were labelled "Caribbean Cuisine" rather than "Bob's Burgers".

Inside, despite some tasty individual skill, the fare was disappointing. Nigeria's followers will not have gone away hugely optimistic about their prospects for the World Cup, though, as so often in pre-tournament friendlies, the absence of several first-choice players made a definitive judgement impossible. Thursday's 2-1 victory over the Republic of Ireland was a better performance, shaky as Nigeria occasionally looked in defence there.

But the coach, Festus Onigbinde, had made six changes, leaving out a number of players certain to be named in his squad this week, including Nwankwo Kanu, Jay-Jay Okocha and the exciting young striker, Julius Aghahowa. England's spy, Ted Buxton, will have confirmed what was already known about the excellence of the young Ajax midfielder, Pius Ikedia, playing wide on the right, and noted the return to the back four of the experienced Taribo West. Buxton may have been confused by the winning goal being scored by a player, James Obiorah, who was not even listed among the 20 players on duty.

Onigbinde, who was thrust into the coach's job for a second spell – the first was almost 20 years ago – after Nigeria's scratchy qualification campaign and failure at the African Nations' Cup, has been impressed with the team's improvement. They remain unbeaten in five matches under him. "I never expected we'd move as fast as we have," Onigbinde said. "The boys have shown dedication since the experience they had in Mali. Some of them became complacent there, that was part of the problem."

No names, no pack-drill, but there has been no sign since of Sunday Oliseh, once of Juventus and Ajax, who scored the winning goal against Spain at the 1998 World Cup, nor of Finidi George, who proved quite unable to sustain a dazzling start to his Ipswich Town career.

After moving the ball around smoothly at the start yesterday, the Nigerians found themselves going backwards for much of the first half. David Beckham would have relished the way they declined to form a wall when Jamaica won a free-kick 30 yards out, from which Marco McDonald forced the goalkeeper, Ike Shorunmu, to take two grabs at the ball. Shorunmu was replaced for the second half, but his performance in Dublin should be enough to establish him as first choice.

But he had been fortunate on the half hour when McDonald's through-ball caused confusion and was nudged past him by one of his centre-halves, Eric Ejiofor. Shorunmu raced back to hack the ball clear but it was obvious from the press box – and to many irate Jamaican supporters – that the ball had been well over the line.

Nigeria showed up better in the second half. They scored in the 50th minute with the aid of a ricochet that fell nicely for Obiorah, who took advantage with a cool finish. Crewe's Efe Sodje again looked uncertain at right-back, but the left-back, Ifenyi Udeze, showed up well and could keep out Chelsea's Celestine Babayaro, who is not currently fit.

Jamaica, not going to the Far East after finishing no better than fifth in their qualifying group, had also played 48 hours earlier, suffering a 5-0 defeat by the United States in New Jersey. They introduced a Premiership attack of Charlton's Kevin Lisbie and Derby County's Deon Burton, but were only once close to forcing an equaliser, when a cross by QPR's Richard Langley should have been forced in.

Nigeria 1 Jamaica 0

Obiorah 50

Half-time: 0-0 Att: 16,000

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