Venezuela U-20 1-0 Nigeria U-20: South Americans Off To Flying Start
Venezuela took control of Group B at the FIFA World U-20 Championships by beating 10-man Nigeria 1-0 thanks to a goal on the stroke of half-time from Jonathan Del Valle.
It was Venezuela’s first ever appearance at a major inter-continental football tournament, and there were unsurprisingly a few nerves on show early on in the encounter. It wasn’t just the South American side that looked anxious, but also the more experienced Nigerians who struggled to find their feet early on during the contest.
Mistakes characterised the opening part of the match, as both sides squandered early chances presented to them. Venezuelan right-back Pablo Camacho delivered a tempting cross into the box, forcing Nigerian goalkeeper Ucke Okafor to tip the ball away with the follow up shot turned behind at the expense of a corner.
The Nigerians immediately responded with a chance of their own as captain Ighalo dialed up a long distance effort from over 40 yards out. What should have been a comfortable save was made to look much harder, when Romo fumbled the ball and conceded an unnecessary corner.
Gradually the Venezuelans began to take control of the game, and started to look the more composed of the two teams. A poor pass from Nigerian midfielder Oluwasina Abe gifted possession to Venezuelan striker Jonathan Del Valle, who strode forward, cut inside the recently booked Nwakwo Obiorah, who couldn’t afford to drag him down, but saw his shot bounce off the post. The loose ball was returned from the right flank back into the danger-zone, and again Del Valle was denied, this time by a combination of keeper and defence to close him down.
Halfway through the first period, the Venezuelans looked dangerous again when a long range strike from left-back Henry Pernia ricocheted off Okafor in the Nigerian goal. The follow up effort from Jose Rondon was flagged offside.
The Nigerians gradually started to establish a foothold in the game, and tested Udinese based goalkeeper Rafael Romo with two long range efforts. A curling free kick on 26 minutes from Osanga was tipped away, and Romo had to be on his toes eight minutes later when neat interplay in the midfield released Odion Ighalo to have a strong shot from the edge of the penalty area. Romo turned the effort behind for a corner.
All the good Nigerian work in getting themselves back into the contest was thrown into turmoil when attacking midfielder Lukman Haruna was sent off. Experienced referee Roberto Rosetti, a Serie A regular, had no hesitation in flashing a straight red to the Monaco player after a late lunge caught Francisco Flores on the knee.
The young Super Eagles were made to further rue Haruna’s indiscretion, when Venezuela snatched the lead with moments to play in the first half. A well flighted free kick to the edge of the penalty area was initially missed by the Nigerian defence presenting it to Del Valle, whose effort flew into the net off his shin to give the Venezuelans the edge going into the interval.
The half-time break gave the hard-pressed Nigerians time to review their approach. They started the second half more confidently, and some neat approach work down the right flank gave the lively 18-year old striker Osanga a sniff of goal. He was quickly closed down to deny the chance though.
Minutes later, a well delivered corner kick found Ibok Edet at the far post. Seemingly overlooked by the Venezuelan defence, Edet missed his first shot, but then stabbed the ball against the outside of the post. That chance ushered in a spell of concerted Nigerian pressure, which culminated in a chance on the 50th minute. Great build up play on the right flank saw a ball played in for Osanga, but at the last moment a defender managed to sneak a toe in to dispossess the striker.
Despite seeing plenty of the ball and pressing forward, the Nigerians found clear cut chances increasingly difficult to wriggle out of the Venezuelan defence as the second half progressed. In the 77th minute substitute Fatai flashed a shot wide from the left, as the Africans resorted to a more direct approach in their attempts to prise open the opposition’s back line.
Venezuela could have doubled their lead as the clock ticked over to 90 minutes. Del Valle flashed a cross to the far post where Rondon was hanging around hopefully. However, the goal scorer from the first-half got far too much on the cross and despite lunging at the ball, Rondon was unable to make meaningful contact, which would have surely put the game beyond doubt.
The Nigerians once again had good fortune when Del Valle squandered yet another chance with seconds left in injury time. Venezuela broke forward from a Nigerian corner with a two-on-one advantage, but the Deportivo Tachira striker’s shot narrowly missed the target.
It was to be the last major action of the game, as Venezuela secured their first ever victory on an inter-continental stage, and gave further evidence of the major strides they are making in the game. Nigeria will be disappointed with a lacklustre first half performance, especially given the significant improvement they made despite playing with a man less for the entire second period.