Is this the beginning of a new era for Nigeria versus Argentina duels?
Nigeria defeated record winners Argentina 2-0 in San Juan on Wednesday night to reach the quarter finals of the FIFA U20 World Cup in that country.
It was a victory that was unexpected but so pleasing to Nigerian hearts after many years of playing second fiddle to our Argentinean adversaries. We must go back almost 30 years to Atlanta ’96 for the last time we defeated the Albiceleste at a serious level.
Since that Olympic Gold victory inside the Sanford Stadium, in Athens, Georgia, Nigeria has failed to defeat Argentina at any level above the U20s.
We lost two painful finals to the genius of Lionel Messi and co at the 2005 World Youth Championship in the Netherlands and the Olympic gold medal match at Beijing 2008.
The Super Eagles have also lost to Argentina at five FIFA World Cups – 1994, 2002, 2010, 2014 and 2018 . Each time by a narrow margin.
It is safe to say that the South Americans have constituted a yoke around our necks. Every time we have gone into games against them, we have come close but not good enough. Except in two friendly matches in Abuja and Krasnodar, we have always struggled.
But Wednesday’s victory with goals by Ibrahim Muhammad and Haliru Sarki was a well-worked defensive masterclass where Ladan Bosso‘s boys soaked in pressure for the entire game and scored two fantastic counter-attacking goals to stun the hosts.
The victory is sweet because we eliminated Argentina right in their home tournament. We left them sour-faced and sad. The entire city of San Juan went quiet, it was like a funeral scene.
Argentina, the land of Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi, is a proud football country. They are the reigning FIFA World Cup champions following their hard-fought victory at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
But Argentina have not always been gracious opponents. One of their major newspapers employed racist innuendo against Nigeria in 1996 ahead of the final. The rag newspaper Ole wrote: Que vengan los macacos, Spanish for Bring on the monkeys, on its cover of July 31. Nevertheless, we defeated them 3-2 to pick up Africa’s first Olympic football gold.
Time to bring out this evergreen headline from 1996. I’m laughing myself to sleep tonight. pic.twitter.com/2OI6QNVKG0
— Lolade Adewuyi (@Jololade) May 31, 2023
And this victory in San Juan could be the psychological shift we need to reach new heights. Now that we have banished the Argentine ghosts, it is time to look towards the future. We must realise that the Albiceleste are beatable at all levels. Despite the unpaid salaries of our coaches under a floundering NFF, our boys are making us dream again.
Viva Flying Eagles, keep making your countrymen proud.