Argentina were eliminated from the FIFA Under-20 World Cup on Wednesday night on home soil as Nigeria emerged triumphant in San Juan.
The Flying Eagles won 2-0 thanks to two second-half goals, dampening the night and stunning a vocal home crowd that had gathered in large numbers to cheer on their national team. Nigeria, however, were more clinical in front of goal and harder to break down than their opponents and will go into the next round with confidence
Argentina came into the match on an unbeaten run and their African opponents had to be firm in the opening exchanges. The African side withstood a first-half onslaught from the Albiceleste’s youth side, with plenty of possession and shots for the home side.
Attacking midfielder Luka Romero started well, but frustration began to build: Argentina could find no way through the green wall and were struggling to create goal-scoring opportunities. Shooting from distance, they were failing to make headway.
In the second half, Nigeria began to grow into the game. Warning of the threat, the home side were lucky to escape with a warning as Abel Ogwuche struck the crossbar. Eventually, concentration was lost for a moment and Argentina opened up, allowing the visitors to get in front through a finely struck 61st minute goal from Ibrahim Muhammad.
Coach Javier Mascherano made changes as he chased a goal and Romero rattled the post. As the home side pressed for an equaliser, spaces appeared at the back. Nigeria broke again and after a defensive slip-up, a 90th-minute cross found a stooping Rilwanu Sarki who headed past the goalkeeper. The contest was over and the Estadio Bicentenario fell silent.
It’s a devastating defeat for Mascherano’s young side, who were hoping to follow in the footsteps of the adult men’s side, who lifted the World Cup in Qatar last December.
Exit at the last 16 stage is a disappointment. Argentina have performed well in previous under-20 tournaments but they initially failed to qualify for this year’s World Cup. The side only earned a place at the last-minute after FIFA withdrew hosting rights from Indonesia and awarded the tournament to Argentina.
Mascherano was under pressure going into the tournament, but in the aftermath of the defeat said he would remain in charge until told otherwise.
He also revealed that he has Claudio Tapia's resignation as soon as he wants it and only then will he leave the post: "I have a great relationship with [AFA President Claudio] Tapia and I will continue until he doesn't want me to. He has my resignation on his desk but my idea is to continue because I feel I'm good for this [role] and as long as they believe the same, I'll be here,” said Mascherano, one of the national team’s most-capped players.
"Life goes on, it hurts our souls, we did everything. We played the game we had to play and it just couldn't happen. The boys gave everything but football is like that: sometimes it gives you and sometimes it takes away," said the coach.