What was expected to be a classic opener for favourites the Netherlands and 1996 Gold medallists Nigeria ended in stalemate on Thursday night in Tianjin as neither side was able to reward the 52,000-plus crowd with a goal to move themselves alongside the USA at the top of Group B.

The first half began with the Dutch taking the early initiative, causing big problems for the Nigerians through the speed of Real Madrid wide man Roysten Drenthe and the dangerous strike pairing of Roy Makaay and Ryan Babel.

The first chance of note came in the 21st minute of this re-match of the 2005 FIFA U-20 World Cup semi-final, which featured several of the same players from that encounter. After Drenthe was bundled over on his way to goal, Jonathan De Guzman had Nigerian keeper Ambruse Vanzekin sprawling to keep the resulting free kick from sailing in to the top corner.

Midway through the first half, the Nigerians began to settle into a rhythm with striker Victor Obinna of Chievo looking the probable difference maker. In the 31st minute, his header from 12 yards sailed just wide. Then two minutes later he was unlucky to make a hash of his attempt to control at the edge of the goal box with only Dutch keeper Kenneth Vermeer to beat.

Obinna did manage to find the target with the last good chance of the half, but his menacing, swirling right-footed shot from 25 yards was batted away by the acrobatic Vermeer at full stretch in the 44th minutes.

Two minutes into the second half, Vanzekin was called into action again. With Babel's 18-yard free kick arrowing to the corner of his net, the Nigerian net minder stretched out to bat it away and then reacted with cat-like reflexes to pounce on the second attempt.

With the injured Makaay replaced by Gerald Sibon at the break, the Dutch were unable to get much else going by way of attack as the game ground toward a scoreless finish. The injection of Evander Sno in midfield offered no more options than did Sibon going forward.

With just six minutes of regular time to go, Promise Isaac, Nigeria's talented No10, nearly produced a stunning winner but for a fine diving save by Vermeer to keep the scores level. The match ended in controversy as Sno was given a straight red card for a rough challenge on substitute Emmanuel Ekpo in the 90th minute.

The Dutch will now meet group leaders USA on 10 August while Nigeria will take on Japan, who lost 1-0 to the Americans in their opener earlier today.