Nigeria’s Flying Eagles earned the first three points of Group D of the ongoing FIFA U-20 World Cup in Argentina after an own goal by Guillermo De Rena and a smart finish by Samson Lawal steered them beyond Dominican Republic in Mendoza.
Ibrahim Muhammad’s shot had been firmly held by goalkeeper Xavier Valdez and Jude Sunday and Tochukwu Nnadi had threatened in the fore within the first quarter-hour, before Japanese referee Yusuke Araki opted to consult the Video Assistant Referee and then award a penalty to Dominican Republic in the 20th minute, after a tackle by Daniel Daga.
The resultant penalty was brilliantly converted by Edison Azcona.
Sunday, Nnadi, Fago Lawal, Samson Lawal and Muhammad all doubled their efforts with onslaughts launched towards the opposition, but goalkeeper Valdez was brilliant on the day, especially in tipping over Sunday’s dipping shot from outside the box in the 37th minute.
Defender Solomon Agbalaka, who headed the goal that sank hosts Egypt at the Africa U20 Cup of Nations in January, attempted a similar effort in the 58th minute but found Valdez capable. From a dashing run in the 61st minute, substitute Emmanuel Umeh should have done more than place the ball in the keeper’s waiting hands.
Daga, Sunday and substitute Haliru Sarki all tested the keeper in a second half dominated by Nigeria, but Samson Lawal was very alert to smell blood and capitalize on a defensive lapse by the boys from Dominican Republic to score Nigeria’s winner in the 68th minute. This was a minute after Jude Sunday had the ball in the net from a flowing team move, but it was ruled offside.
“We are happy with the three points though we wanted the boys to win by a higher margin as goals advantage do matter along the line in a competition such as this. The next two matches will be much tougher and I expect the Flying Eagles to also show sterner stuff,” said NFF General Secretary, Dr. Mohammed Sanusi who watched the encounter at the Estadio Malvinas Argentinas in Mendoza.
Next up for the two-time runners-up of the FIFA U20 World Cup is a clash with Italy at the same venue on Wednesday evening. A draw will most certainly guarantee a place in the knockout rounds for the Flying Eagles, ahead of their final group phase encounter with Brazil in La Plata on Saturday.