Argentina cruise through, Nigeria suffer cruel fate
Three out of three! With nine points from three games and no goals conceded, Argentina have made the perfect start to the tournament. An uninspired Nigeria were simply never in the game in Turku on Tuesday 19 August 2003 and with Costa Rica beating Australia 2-0 in the other Group B encounter, FIFA were left to decide the second place qualifier for the quarter-finals by the drawing of lots. Nigeria and Costa Rica finished level on the same number of points with the same stats. The hand of fate came down in favour of the Ticos, and the Nigerians were out.
Nigeria took the field without any major surprises in their ranks. Coach Augustine Eguavoen had obviously made up his mind to stick to his guns, only making one change during the 90 minutes. The experienced African supremo would no doubt have preferred to celebrate his 38th birthday with a very different result today, but try as they did, too many of his charges appeared to be carrying knocks and never got into their stride.
In a game played in a fine spirit by both sides, the South Americans proved both tactically and technically superior. Led by their inspirational and highly dependable captain Lautaro Formica, the new-look Argentina made Nigeria appear sloppy by comparison.
Hector Tocalli had brought in a number of new faces; “I wanted to rotate players but also play certain players in a different position. We were lucky in having already qualified before the game started.”
Nigeria had their first scare when Fernando Gago managed to pop up between four defenders and get in the first shot on goal, but Nigerian netminder Ambruse Vanzekin saved brilliantly (2’). The albiceleste went close again when Hernan Peirone got in another shot on Vanzekin following some lovely passing in the build up (8’).
hances were few and far between for the rest of the half, and indeed the rest of the match. The first Nigerian shot on goal did not come until the 33rd minute, when John Mikel got on the end of a cutback to strike a drive. Mikel was in the thick of it again in the 38th minute, firing another low shot on target, but neither effort seriously troubled the Argentinian keeper.
The South Americans were the more dominant side though, and that trend continued after the break, with the battling Ariel Colzera causing the Africans all sorts of trouble. Nippy, aggressive and skilful, the striker from Boca Juniors was a handful down the right wing and it was only a matter of time before a goal came of his and his team-mates’ efforts.
Formica lifted in a free kick to the back post, where Peirone leapt acrobatically to knock the ball back into the middle for Alejandro Faurlin to finish smartly (0-1, 59’). "I was a bit lucky actually,” he admitted after the game “the ball was on me before I knew it and I just hit it.”
That was how it stayed and a beaming Argentina coach Hugo Tocalli was clearly delighted after the match: “Not only have we finished top of our group, which was my aim, but Lucas Biglia is on his way back too. I will be able to choose from twenty players again."
When asked which second-placed side from Group A he would like to meet in the quarter-finals, the Argentinian coach was unequivocal: “Mexico, Finland or Colombia – it doesn’t really matter. We respect all the countries at this World Championship and we are going to do everything in our power to win our six matches.”