Argentina were crowned FIFA World Youth Champions for a record fifth time after overcoming Nigeria 2-1 in a tight final at the Galgenwaard stadium in Utrecht on Saturday. Two penalties in each half from the exceptional Lionel Messi proved enough to defeat a Nigerian side who, for long periods of the match, appeared to have the power, skill and desire to become the first African winners of the competition. For his sensational efforts, Messi picked up adidas Golden Shoe and adidas Golden Ball awards.
"I'm overjoyed to have won this title," said coach Francisco Ferraro. "It's a personal triumph and will bring great joy to our nation. Messi had a superb championship and deserves all the praise he receives."
Argentina and Nigeria were both without there defensive pillars Gustavo Cabral and Onyekachi Apam. They like, Albiceleste striker Neri Cardozo, were suspended for the final. In the absence of the Boca Juniors' player, Messi was playing a more central role in attack under the watchful gaze of Dele Adeleye.
Supremely confident after their 3-0 semi-final victory over Morocco and enthused by a fast drum rhythm created by the green waves of supporters among the capacity crowd, Nigeria dominated the contest's opening exchanges.
Joining the attack, Adeleye had a half chance on 20 minutes but failed to get a clean strike on goal from the corner of the six-yard box.
Many had billed this as a Messi versus John Obi Mikel clash and with the Barcelona man somewhat starved of service, it was the Nigerian who caught the eye first. Appearing to float on grass and glide past players, he was the focal point of the Flying Eagles attack, threading passes through to strikers at will. His team-mates though were not immediately on the same wavelength.
Goalkeeper Ambruse Vanzenkin had to be alert on 31 minutes, fisting away a Gustavo Oberman cross-shot. Five minutes later the dangerous John Owoeri beat his man down the left but, instead of crossing, chose to shoot and Oscar Ustari made a smart save at his near post.
With his vision, bursts of pace and disconcerting drop of the shoulder, Messi was always a threat at the other end, and, against the run of play, he manufactured a goal out of nothing.
The 18-year-old picked up the ball deep and tore through the defence before being upended in the box by Adeleye. Already on four goals, Messi grabbed the ball, placed it on the spot and, with the composure of a rare talent, sent Vanzenkin the wrong way to become the tournament's joint top scorer. Pure class. (1:0, 39')
Put through by a neat flick from Promise Isaac, Owoeri had a fine chance to equalise seven minutes after the restart but his touch let him down and the chance went begging.
A minute later though Chinedu Ogbuke made no mistake. The striker stole a march on his marker and, 10 yards out, glanced Olubayo Adefemi's right-wing centre into the bottom corner to spark thunderous applause (1:1, 53').
The Flying Eagles' tails were up and after another superb flick from Isaac, David Abwo fired into the side netting.
Messi was not done either though. He skipped past Monday James and fired across goal with Zabaleta inches away from connecting. Two minutes later, 62, Isaac fired just wide as the crowd began an appreciate wave.
On top once more, Nigeria inexplicably conceded another penalty to fall behind. Substitute Sergio Aguero was hauled down and Messi calmly stroked the ball into the bottom corner (2:1, 74').
“The reason we lost was because of the two penalties we gave away," said Samson Siasia. "We have got to have better discipline… we lost our concentration. The Argentina players were not in a good position to score and weren’t dangerous to us out there, so I don’t know why they were brought down."
Siasia's boys had now lost their shape and were beginning to lose their composure. Aguero, through on goal, had his shot smothered, and four minutes later, 84, Adefemi miraculously cleared from between his own posts with Vankekin, not for the first time, charging off his line.
There was nothing left in the African tank and they sank to their knees at the final whistle as Argentina tasted more glory.