Facing Ukraine was always going to be a difficult prospect but Nigeria’s plan to contain the Europeans was successfully executed to gain the draw required to progress to the Round of 16 at the FIFA U20 World Cup in Poland according to Flying Eagles head coach, Paul Aigbogun.
The Flying Eagles needed to avoid defeat to ensure progress to the next round and duly battled to a 1-1 draw against the Group D winners to keep their hopes of winning a first U20 World Cup alive.
Muhamed Tijani missed a penalty in the first half but made amends from the spot in the second half to draw the Flying Eagles level after Danyle Sikan had put Ukraine ahead thirty minutes into the match in Bielsko-Biala.
The draw guaranteed Nigeria passage to the knockout round as one of four best third-placed and Aigbogun said facing the “well-organized” and “disciplined” Ukrainians was always going to be a tough proposition but the efforts of the players in remaining undaunted and executing his game plan to perfection ensured that Nigeria got the point needed to remain in Poland.
“We knew it was going to be a difficult game because we checked Ukraine and they are a well-organized team, a disciplined team who have ability,” Aigbogun said. “But we had a good look at them and planned well for them and thanks to the players they kept organized and followed the plans to go through.”
The Flying Eagles, however, didn’t get going until they fell behind and were faced with the prospect of an ignominious group stage exit. Aigbogun attributed their tepid start to a cautiousness occasioned by the knowledge that they only needed a draw to progress which he said, made them “tentative”.
But his instructions during the break directing the players to “go out and express” themselves, Aigbogun said, made them less inhibited and “brought out the best in the players”.
“In the first half, you know, when you go into a game and you know that either a win or draw will take you through; I think we were a bit tentative in the first half at the beginning, trying to make sure they didn’t concede.
“But once they conceded [and] we had a penalty which we missed, I think all we had to tell them in the second half: this is it, go out and express yourself because we needed to score to stay in the tournament. So, I think it brought out the best in the players and it allowed them to play without any inhibitions and we thank God for the end result.”
The Flying Eagles are likely to face Senegal, their conquerors in the final of the WAFU U20 tournament in the Round of 16 and Aigbogun says his team “won’t fear” the Senegalese but would have to be at their best to triumph in the “Africa to Africa” contest.
“It’s Africa to Africa this one. They are a good team so we’ll show them respect in that aspect but we won’t fear them,” the former Enyimba head coach said.
“I’m sure they’ll look at us too, we know each other from the previous tournament and watching them play, but we know that we have to be at our best because they are a good team and any teams we meet now in the tournament is going to be a tough opposition,” he added.