Nigeria’s U-20 male football team, the Flying Eagles, began their campaign at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Argentina on a winning note on Sunday, claiming a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over the Dominican Republic in their opening match.
Placed in the same group with Italy and five-time champions Brazil, both Nigeria and the Dominican Republic knew they needed the best possible outcome from Sunday’s game.
It was thus not surprising, as the initial stage of the game at the Estadio Malvinas Argentinas in Mendoza was fiercely contested, with both teams trying to take charge of the tempo of the game.
However, the Dominican Republic broke the deadlock in the 21st minute when 19-year-old Edison Azcona coolly converted a penalty awarded after a VAR review showed Nigeria’s Benjamin Frederick has committed a foul in the box.
Despite this early setback, the Flying Eagles, who came into the game on Sunday as favourites of the Group D tie, displayed commendable resilience.
They made many attempts to pierce through the Dominican’s defence, with Jude Sunday, who started on the left flank of the attack, in particular, proving to be a thorn in their side.
Finally, in the 32nd minute, Nigeria equalised thanks to an own goal by Guillermo De Pena after an error by the Dominican Republic’s goalkeeper, Xavier Valdez.
Despite several attempts from both sides, it was Nigeria’s Samson Lawal who emerged as the game-changer, as he scored what proved to be the winning goal in the 70th minute
This came after an earlier effort by Jude Sunday was disallowed for offside, which added to the match’s drama.
The Dominican Republic showed commendable grit and made many attempts to level the score, but Nigeria’s goalkeeper, Kingsley Aniogboso, was up to the task, denying the opposition at crucial moments.
In the final minutes of the match, Nigeria continued to press high, seeking to extend their lead.
The likes of Haliru Sarki and Jude Sunday had further opportunities but were denied by the Dominican Republic’s defence, led by their standout goalkeeper Valdez.
At the final whistle, it was Nigeria’s Flying Eagles who emerged victorious, earning a hard-fought 2-1 win in their opening match.
The next stop for Ladan Bosso and his boys is against Italy on Wednesday before stepping out against Brazil three days later for their last group game.