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Nigeria begin build-up with draw vs Scotland Mexico win big, but Corona hurt

LONDON, May 29, (RTRS): An experimental Nigeria side featuring mainly fringe players and hopefuls began their World Cup warm-ups with a 2-2 draw with Scotland 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. 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 coach Gordon 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.

Meanwhile, Miguel Layun struck twice for Mexico who began their World Cup preparations with a 3-0 win over Israel at the Azteca stadium on Wednesday but also suffered a scare with goalkeeper Jesus Corona taken to hospital with a head injury. Corona collided with team-mate Francisco Rodriguez in the 69th minute and lay flat out before he was taken off the field on a cart and driven straight to hospital. Guillermo Ochoa, who is competing for the starting keeper role, replaced Corona in goal. The game doubled as a farewell match for 41-year-old Cuauhtemoc Blanco who was recalled for his 120th and final appearance for the national team.

The forward, who made his debut for Mexico in 1995 and played in three World Cups, received a standing ovation when he was substituted by Raul Jimenez in the 38th minute. Four minutes later Mexico grabbed the lead when Layun cut in from the left flank and unleashed a fierce drive which confounded unsighted Israel keeper Ariel Harush. Jimenez might have done better in the 56th minute when he was found in space at the back post but could only drive into the side netting.

Layun doubled the advantage in the 62nd minute when his long range effort was parried by Harush but the ball looped over the keeper and into the net. Eran Zehavi went close with a free-kick for Isreal which Corona did well to push out before his accident led to some concerned moments before the substitution. Five minutes from the end, Marco Fabian pounced on a clearance and fired into the bottom corner to make it 3-0 although the Israeli players were convinced that Javier Hernandez was in an offside position as he evaded the shot. Mexico, who face Brazil, Croatia and Cameroon in Group A, will continue their warm-up against Ecuador on Saturday in Dallas.

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