Argentina 2023: Flying Eagles 2-0 Los Cebollitas (Little Onions)
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By Rasheed Adewuyi
Nigeria eliminated host nation Argentina as goals from Ibrahim Muhammad and Rilwanu Haliru Sarki sent the six-time champions out of the FIFA U20 World Cup at the Round of 16 on Wednesday.
On an incredible night in western Argentina, the Flying Eagles pulled out every trick in the book to defend in numbers and then score two goals on quick counter-attacks that had the Albiceleste Sub-20, who had won all their three matches in the group phase, flummoxed and dumbstruck as they crashed out of the tournament.
Head Coach Ladan Bosso had promised that his boys would give as much as they got, and they did just that and even more with clear intent from the 9th minute when a snapshot by Ibrahim Muhammad on the edge of the box went narrowly off.
There were even exchanges afterwards and the Argies came close with a header in the 39th minute, but the Flying Eagles returned with more stamina and guile in the second half and completely astounded the hosts in front of nearly 30,000 fans in San Juan.
Goalkeeper Chijioke Aniagboso had saved from Barco in the 51st minute and Jude Sunday’s shot was held by the opposition goalie, before the two-time silver medallists struck the underside of the bar with an intelligent shot from the edge of the box by Tochukwu Nnadi in the 58th minute.
The hosts escaped there, but would not be that lucky three minutes later, when from a long Aniagboso ball out, substitute Emmanuel Umeh found an onrushing Muhammad who stretched beyond the attention of two defenders and slotted beyond the advancing goalkeeper into the net.
Two minutes later, Umeh could have turned goalscorer when he ran powerfully down the left and planted himself in a good position, but dragged his shot a little too wide.
Carboni saw his shot held by the calm and collected Aniagboso and then headed wide, before Umeh again came close only to be foiled with the goalkeeper beaten.
The nifty Romero hit the upright with a deceptive shot in the 83rd minute, and Abel Ogwuche cleared the ball as two Argies were set to pull the trigger in the 85th minute with things becoming really anxious.
Javier Mascherano’s boys poured forward in search of the equalizer, and were then open to a sucker punch. AC Milan of Italy’s Victor Eletu showed tenacity and grit to hold on to another long Aniagboso ball out of defense, and then lifted for Haliru Sarki to nod into the net with aplomb for Nigeria’s second with one minute into added time.
…and coach Javier Mascherano bows his head in defeat
The victory somewhat atoned for Argentina’s 2-1 defeat of Nigeria in the final of the 2005 edition of the competition in The Netherlands, when Lionel Messi scored twice from the penalty spot to deny the African champions.
Victory took the Flying Eagles to the quarter-finals, where they meet the winner of the Ecuador/South Korea Round of 16 duel to be decided on Thursday.