Salem Fago and Jude Sunday scored their first goals at the FIFA U20 World Cup to help Nigeria beat Italy 2-0 in the Group D matchday two clash at the Estadio Malvinas Argentinas on Wednesday evening.
Fago had largely been ineffective in the 53 minutes he was on the pitch for the Flying Eagles against the Dominican Republic on Sunday night. But he was the hero as Nigeria booked their ticket to the knockout rounds with their second consecutive win at the tournament.
Italy started well on the night, buoyed by their impressive 3-2 win over five-time champions Brazil on matchday one. But the Flying Eagles were not to be easily cowed. After surviving an early Italian onslaught, Nigeria began to ask a few questions of their own.
Midfielder Daniel Daga had the sight of the goal in the eighth minute for the West Africans, but his low drive went off target.
Nigeria had their first corner in the 15th minute, but Salim Fago headed over the bar following a good delivery.
Italy went close in the 21st minute when Pafundi danced past two Nigerian tackles; his low cross found Cesare Casadei, who sent a snapshot onto the crossbar.
Jude Sunday was proving to be the most exciting Nigerian attacker, and just before the half-hour mark, space opened up a bit for him on the edge of the box, but his final shot whistled past the left post.
Shortly after, Agbalaka got to the end of another Nigerian corner, but he could only head wide.
The Flying Eagles finally worked the Italian goalkeeper after Fago ran unto Abdullahi’s through-ball and lashed a fierce drive that the goalie pushed past for a corner.
Moments later, Agbalaka handled the ball in the box for a potential Italian penalty, but VAR came to Nigeria’s rescue as it spotted an earlier Italian handball.
Later in the half, goalkeeper Aniagboso had to be alert to smartly turn a fierce drive from a distance over the post for an Italian corner that came to naught.
The Flying Eagles had done a great job keeping out an Italian team that scored three times in the opening 30 minutes against Brazil on matchday one. But more still had to be done after the break.
Italy threatened barely seconds into the second half, but Nigeria’s defence cleared the ball off the line as it looked to trickle in after a sweet interplay.
Nigeria reacted well, and captain Bameyi stung the goalkeeper’s palms with a stinging strike from 25 yards.
A back-and-forth ensued between the two teams before Nigeria broke the deadlock on the hour mark.
A cross came to substitute Umeh Emmanuel in the box, and after riding a challenge, he showed good quality to pick out Fago unmarked, who then headed into the net for the opening goal.
Nigeria looked to see out their advantage until the closing stages before delivering the knockout punch for the second goal.
Italy pushed forward in search of the equaliser, but their attack broke down, allowing goalkeeper Aniagboso to send a long ball forward to Jude Sunday. The young attacker raced forward, and steadied himself before breaking millions of Italian hearts with the second goal deep into stoppage time.
The Flying Eagles, with the victory over the Azzurrini, have moved to the top of Group D with six points from two games.