ATLANTA (AP) Raul Jimenez’s late header for Mexico went just wide in a 0-0 tie with Nigeria on Wednesday night in an exhibition game at the Georgia Dome.
The game between World Cup qualifiers attracted 68,212 fans, the largest crowd for a soccer game in Atlanta. The previous record was 54,229 for a 2013 Gold Cup doubleheader that included Mexico.
The audience was distinctly pro-Mexican, and did not have a lot to cheer about in the early going as the 21st-ranked El Tri failed to muster much in the first half.
Goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa made two of his three first-half saves within a minute of each other, first in the 12th minute when Nigerian forward Emmanuel Emenikie snaked his way past the defense only to have Ochoa punch away his shot from about 20 yards. Soon after, Nigeria – No. 47 in the FIFA world rankings – played a corner kick from the right. The ball found its way high, and midfielder John Obi Mikel got a lead foot on it, sending a shot from 35 yards that Ochoa punched away.
Players on both squads have come together only recently from a variety of professional assignments.
”We have to be more together,” Mexico coach Miguel Herrera said. ”With one day of work, it’s very difficult. … We were not able to generate a lot of opportunities. There just wasn’t time to prepare. Too many players were in Europe, and they like to play a certain way.”
Nigerian captain and goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama had to make only one save in the first half. He was replaced in the second half by Austin Ejide, who was much busier as Mexico built tempo after halftime.
As the match wore on, Mexico was better at building scoring opportunities from midfield rather than by chasing long balls.
Five of Mexico’s nine second-half shots were on goal, and Ejide had to turn each of them away. He had two of his five saves in the 69th minute, though neither was a particularly dangerous chance.
El Tri was more in sync after halftime, however possessing the ball for nearly 30 of the 45 minutes. Nigerian was credited with 270 passes in the match to Mexico’s 464.
”This is not the final squad … nobody is guaranteed a spot,” Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi said. ”We didn’t really play our style. We’ve been out for about four or five months … with different teams … different styles. That’s why I’m glad we played a team like Mexico (that keeps the ball on the ground).”
Ejide had to make a couple punch saves in the final 10 minutes, but he would not have blocked Jimenez’s shot in the 84th minute if it were inches to the left.
The goalie was slow in crossing the goal mouth as a corner kick came in across his face, and Jimenez got to the ball far post first. His diving header, however, sailed inches right of the post.
Mexico will play an exhibition game against the United States on April 2 in Glendale, Ariz.