BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
When the Nigeria Flying Eagles face Italy in the Match Day 2 of the Group D of the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Argentina on Wednesday, it is more than just the struggle for the headship of the group. For the Flying Eagles, it an opportunity to avenge the defeat that Italy inflicted on their ancestors.
At Concepcion, Chile in 1987, Italy beat Nigeria 2-0.That was the only other fixture that paired Nigeria and Italy at the U-20 level. Thirty six years down the line, they are both at it again in South America.
While Italy had the edge in 1987, the Flying Eagles however have a better record at the U20 level having previously featured 12 times as against seven by Italy.
Besides, Italy’s best outing had been getting the third position obtained in 2017.Nigeria on the other hands had played the championship match twice but ending up as runners up in 1989 and 2005.
The Italians are competing for the third successive edition. A win by either Nigeria or Italy will guarantee qualification to the next stage by the winner.
Italy have qualified from their group in each of their last five appearances . The last time they failed to make it beyond the group stage was in 1981.
For the records, the first goal in the history of the tournament was scored by Italy’s Luigi Capuzzo in a 1-1 draw against Côte d’Ivoire in 1977.
Nigeria have more FIFA U-20 World Cup participations to their name than any other African nation.
The Flying Eagles made history in 1989, when they became the first African team to reach the final of this competition. They also progressed all the way through to the tournament decider in 2005, when they were denied glory by two Lionel Messi penalties.
Overall, Nigeria have reached the knockout stages in ten of their 12 FIFA U-20 World Cup campaigns.
The last time they featured at the finals and failed to qualify from their group was all the way back in 1987.