Nigeria’s Flying Eagles side was well beaten by Team USA 2-0 in Bielsko-Biala, Poland on Monday night. This means Nigeria must earn a result against table-toppers Ukraine on Thursday to be sure of a place in the Round of 16.
Looking already good for the knockout stages following a commanding 4-0 win over Qatar in Tychy on Friday, the two-time runners-up were taken to the cleaners by a smooth-playing American side that was vastly superior in pace, technical hue, all-round play, awareness, guile and marksmanship.
Having beaten Qatar easily, the Eagles were expected to find their range against USA and get their two feet into the knockout rounds. But that looked a mountain to climb right from kick-off as the nifty Sebastian Soto, who scored both goals, combined well with Alex Mendez and Timothy Weah to rip through the Nigerian defence at will.
Soto came close to getting the first goal after only nine minutes, but missed with goalkeeper Olawale Oremade beaten. In another nine minutes, he got it right, as he was strangely allowed a free header from a corner inside a box that had about eight Nigerian players.
It would have been two-nil three minutes later but Oremade charged out Weah’s close-range shot. Nine minutes later, it should have been that exact scoreline but the ever-dangerous Soto was ruled offside after rifling into the net, as four Nigerian defenders made a complete hash of clearing the ball from a corner kick.
In the closing stages of the first half, Aniekeme Okon’s fierce shot was palmed away by goalkeeper Brad Scott, but right from the recess, the threatening 2-0 score on the board became a reality as Soto, again, ran cleverly behind a stiff Nigerian rearguard to snap the ball past Oremade.
Even as they improved in the second period, the Flying Eagles failed to show any attacking fluency or clinical efficiency, and it was rather the Americans who put on display excellent footwork and and cohesion now and again to threaten at will.
Nigeria must now earn a result against group leaders Ukraine – who pipped Qatar 1-0 earlier in the day – on Thursday to advance to the Round of 16.