Saturday, October 24, 2015 1:57 am
Nigeria’s Golden Eaglets did not get the revenge they wanted against Croatia in the final Group A match in Estadio Francisco Sanchez Rumoroso Coquimbo, Chile.
Rather it was the Croatians who continued their superiority against the Nigerian lads, cancelling Nigeria’s 20th minute first goal in the first half and then scoring a second in the 54th minute, to claim the three points at stake.
They got five points overall, behind Nigeria’s six points.
The victory cemented their second position in the group and denied the hosts Chile of automatic qualification, despite bashing the United States, 3-1. Chile ended with four points and the United States, just a point.
Right from the blast of the whistle, the Croatians took the war to the Nigerians. They made 23 attempts on goal, to Nigerians seven and had more possession of the ball at 59 per cent, to Nigerians 41 per cent. Six of the goal attempts were on target, compared to Nigerians, two.
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Croatia, knowing a win would be enough for them to advance to the knockout stages, started the match in Coquimbo with great determination and created a number of chances early in the match. Croatia captain Nikola Moro had a shot from around the penalty area deflect strongly off Nigeria’s brave defenders.
Four minutes later, Nigeria had their first significant chance of the match when Victor Osimhen, after an impressive counter attack, slotted a shot past Croatia goalkeeper Adrian Semper only for it to hit the base of the goal post.
Osimhen would not have to wait long to see his fortunes change when, after another swift counter attack, he calmly danced around Semper to score and become the tournament’s outright top scorer, tallying his fourth goal at Chile 2015 so far.
Croatia continued to have the majority of possession for the remainder of the half. In the 39th minute Moro had a strong free-kick saved superbly by Nigeria keeper Akpan Udoh. Croatia would have one more significant chance before the interval but Borna Sosa’s shot was deflected for a corner after Ejike Ikwu’s intervention. When the referee blew the whistle for half-time, Croatia had 18 attempts to Nigeria’s three, but it was the Africans who held the important advantage.
Croatia returned from the break anxious to finally convert a chance and they did so just five minutes into the second half. Josip Brekalo scored the equaliser after Moro wriggled his way along the Nigerian defense’s goal-line and found his team-mate on the back post.
Dario Basic’s Croatia then used their momentum to take the lead four minutes later when they capitalised on an error from Nigeria’s backline. Karlo Majic cooly curled in a right-footed shot to score his second of the tournament and, more importantly, give his team the lead.
There were chances for both sides towards the end and Nigeria threatened to score an equaliser in the final minutes. The stand-out moment was Croatia defender Branimir Kalaica’s last-ditch block on Samuel Chukwueze to keep his side 2-1 ahead.
Croatia held on to their lead in the end to become the first Croatian team ever to reach the Round of 16 in the tournament and will now face the runners-up in Group C on Thursday 29 October, while Group A winners Nigeria will wait to see which third-placed team from Groups C, D or E they will come up against in the Round of 16 on Wednesday 28 October.
It was not the night the Nigerians hoped for in Coquimbo, hoping to avenge a defeat in the hands of the Croatians in the final of the 2015 Suwon International Youth Championship in South Korea.
The Nigerians were leading until the dying minutes, when the Croatians snatched victory 3-2.
The duo of Eaglets John Lazarus and David Enogela who had hoped that they could use Friday night game to exact their pound of flesh would have to to fight another day.
*With additional match report by FIFA.com