After a below par outing against USA in Bielsko-Biala on Monday, Nigeria’s Flying Eagles have their fate in their own hands when they battle leaders Ukraine in Group D for a place in the knockout stages of the 2019 U-20 World Cup in Poland on Thursday.
Goals by Sebastian Soto and a sterling performance by the US condemned the seven-time African champions to a 2-0 defeat. Though they still have three points and two goals advantage after their 4-0 defeat of Qatar in Tychy on Friday, any slip against the Ukrainians could cost the Flying Eagles dearly.
The Ukrainians have already qualified for the Round of 16, but they could still finish third on the log and be condemned to face the first-placed team in Group B. That is, if they lose to Nigeria and USA, on three points as Nigeria, rack up a big win over Qatar.
Both teams go toe-to-toe at the Bielsko-Biala Stadium as from 7.30pm Nigeria time on Thursday, with the Flying Eagles determined to take the game to their opponents and get a win.
However, Paul Aigbogun’s side will do well to avoid the kind of lethargic start they contrived against USA, and put together more attacking moves complemented by clinical finishing.
If they end up as Group D winners, the Flying Eagles will travel back to Tychy to play a third-placed team in the Round of 16 on Monday. If they finish in second place, they will be off to Bydgoszcz to play the winners of Group E, which has another African side Mali, as well as France, Panama and Saudi Arabia. And if they end up as one of the best third-placed teams, they will be off to Lodz to play the winners of Group B.
The Nigerians must watch out for Denys Popov, who scored two of the Ukrainians three goals at the championship, as well as Serhi Buletsa, who scored against USA.
Two of Africa’s three other representatives, Mali and Senegal, are poised to reach the knockout rounds. Senegal top Group A after amassing six points from beating Tahiti and Colombia, while Mali perch in second place in Group E with four points after a draw with Panama and edging Saudi Arabia in a seven-goal thriller. South Africa, after losses to Argentina and Korea Republic, are pointless in Group F.