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Nigeria, Italy struggle for early knock out stage qualification at Argentina 2023




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.

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.


Julio Gonzalez Ferreira: a tale of triumph over adversity



The accident happened on 22 December 2005, on the road between Vicenza and Venice, hours before he was due to fly home to Paraguay for the holidays.

Twenty-seven days later, and despite their best efforts, the medical team were forced to amputate his left arm.

Julio Gonzalez Ferreira was 24 years old. The dreams he had had as a kid kicking the ball around near his childhood home in Asuncion were now over.

Dreams that had been sustained by goals and hard work at club level and with the national team.

He had featured in the Paraguay sides that finished fourth at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Argentina 2001 and won a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics, while his debut on the biggest stage was to come, with La Albirroja having had qualified for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany.

“When the surgeon told me that they had to amputate my arm, my world fell apart,” Gonzalez Ferreira told, during a break from his duties with the FIFA Technical Study Group at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Argentina 2023.


 “It’s hard to express everything that went through my head…I even had a pre-contract signed with Roma…I was going to replace my childhood hero, Gabriel Batistuta!” he added.

How did he get through it? “Football was at the heart of it. I knew that my future depended on my perseverance, on the same thing that made me a professional footballer in the first place.

“So I set out with the aim of playing again, no matter what the doctors said, or how many people thought it was impossible,” explains Gonzalez Ferreira, now 42 years old.

While Vicenza offered him a coaching role within their youth set-up as his recovery advanced, Julio returned to Paraguay in 2007, and signed with Tacuary.

There, after a great deal of hard work, on 18 November 2007, 22 months and 26 days after the accident, he took to the field and played professionally once more.


With his brother Celso playing alongside him, Gonzalez Ferreira was on the field for nearly 60 minutes against a powerful Olimpia side.

The story made headlines worldwide, and served as inspiration for thousands of people. “That achievement meant that football could be the main priority in my life once more. Since then, I’ve stayed in the game in one form or another.”

He retired in 2008. Since then, he has worked with Inter Milan’s foundation in Paraguay, running training sessions for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. He also qualified as a coach, working in the lower divisions. Last year, he joined the FIFA Legends programme.

His time at the current tournament in Argentina is, he says, “bringing back so many memories”.

It was here that he was one of the key players when Paraguay secured a historic fourth place finish in the U-20 World Cup Argentina 2001. He is surprised when shows him a video of the two goals he scored in that competition, against Iran in the group stage and against Ukraine in the round of 16.


 “I really wanted to see them again. They bring back such happy memories, a really nice feeling!” he smiles.

He speaks with a touch of emotion when asked what it means to him to form part of the FIFA Technical Study Group here. “It’s life’s way of answering me, of saying ‘this is your reward for all that effort, all that sacrifice, for never giving up, never throwing in the towel. Life and football are repaying you now.’”

In between memories, the former forward organises his papers and his tablet ahead of the first of the round of 16 games.

During the matches, he observes and analyses all the “tactical, technical, physical and even psychological aspects of the game, generating data that the teams and players can then use.

And FIFA makes them available to the world of football via their Training Centre, which anyone can access,” he explains. “All this material we generate is fantastic, because it goes into a final report for the tournament.


“Have you any idea how valuable all this information would have been in my time as a player?” he adds.

With his coach’s eye, he has been impressed by what he has seen so far in the tournament, particularly “how the teams are building play from the goalkeeper or the central defenders, through the full-backs and midfield and ending up in organised attacking plays”.

The next game is about to begin, and Gonzalez Ferreira dives back into his work with a smile, happy at what he now helps to create. Football always gives a second chance to those who persevere.


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Flying Eagles fly home on Tuesday



After a mission impossible at getting to the championship game of the U20 World Cup in Argentina, the Flying Eagles will return home on Tuesday.

They fought gamely but lost after extra time to Korea Republic at the quarter final stage on Sunday.

Two-time runners-up Nigeria dominated for large parts of the game but were eliminated from the FIFA U20 World Cup by a single goal on Sunday as Korea Republic surged into the semi-finals for the second successive tournament.

The Flying Eagles, who eliminated hosts and six-time champions Argentina in the Round of 16 on Wednesday, created few chances despite passing the ball round the field quite well, with lack of punch in the final third the undoing of the seven-time African champions.

Victor Eletu, whose show of guts and grits led to the second goal that ended Argentina’s hope on Wednesday, curled a fine shot from outside the box on the half hour, but the Korean goalkeeper punched it out of danger.


In a highly cagey affair, both teams watched each other closely and only few risks were taken throughout the first period.

In the second period, Nigeria looked more adventurous with defender Daniel Bameyi striking from the edge of the box, only to see his effort stopped by the goalkeeper. In added time, Emmanuel Umeh’s dazzling run ended with a shot that was also smartly held by the Korean goal-tender.

The Asian vice champions got the winner five minutes into the first period of extra time, when substitute Sun Choi met a corner kick with a glancing header, and Nigeria goalkeeper Chijioke Aniagboso was in no man’s land.  

Umeh, with a great chance to equalize in the 109th minute, blazed over the bar, and in the final minute, struck the side of the net.

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End of the road for Flying Eagles



Nigeria’s Flying Eagles, the last African team standing have crashed out of the FIFA U20 World Cup after losing 1-0 to Korea Republic after extra time in a quarter-finals clash.

And so, as it was at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, South Korea have again sent Nigeria packing.

No thanks to Seokhun Choi’s header in the fifth minute of the extra time. That settled the encounter which the Flying Eagles obviously had more ball possession.

Until the back-breaking goal, Nigeria had gone 545 minutes – over nine hours – without conceding against an Asian side in the competition .

 The Taegeuk Warriors will now face Italy on Thursday for a place in the final. The Flying Eagles had the better of the play during the first 90 minutes, but struggled to create any meaningful opportunities against a resilient defence.


Victor Ehuwa Eletu had the best of them following a jinking dribble, but his shot was tipped round the post by Kim Joonhong.

To extra-time it went, with Korea Republic making the breakthrough via a corner. Lee Seungwon delivered one of his low, quick crosses, and Choi cleverly headed it backwards, up and over goalkeeper Kingsley Aniagboso and into the net.

 Korea Republic will now strive to reach the final in back-to-back editions of this competition.

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