By Sedara Philip
The only two non-European or South American nations left at the Under-20 World Cup prepare for battle in Sunday’s quarter-final as South Korea Under-20s meet Nigeria Under-20s at Estadio Unico Madre de Ciudades.
The Tiger of Asia edged a five-goal thriller with Ecuador 3-2 to advance to the quarters for the second time in a row, while their African counterparts stunned host nation Argentina 2-0 in the last 16.
Seeking to go one better at the Under-20 World Cup after falling short in the 2019 final against Ukraine, South Korea’s bid for glory in Argentina began in solid yet unspectacular fashion, going unbeaten in their three group fixtures with Gambia, France and Honduras but only prevailing in one of them.
Kim Eun-joong’s men laid down a marker early doors against Ecuador, though, as Lee Young-jun and Bae Joon-ho – who set up his compatriot’s opener – made the net ripple inside the opening 20 minutes of Thursday’s game, but a Justin Cuero penalty nine minutes before the break would seemingly make things interesting.
However, Choi Seok-hyeon’s header restored South Korea’s two-goal advantage just three minutes after the restart, and even though Sebastian Gonzalez once again reduced the deficit for Ecuador in the dying embers, it was a fruitless endeavour against the Red Devils.
Showcasing a propensity for efficient attacking and undesirable defending, South Korea have found the back of the net seven times at the 2023 Under-20 World Cup while conceding six themselves, while Nigeria unexpectedly quelled a hitherto rampant Argentina attack earlier this week.
Even with the 27,000-strong home crowd roaring them on during Wednesday’s last-16 contest, Argentina had no answers to a staunch Nigeria backline, one which absorbed incessant pressure from the host nation before hitting them with two second-half sucker punches.
After surviving 61 minutes with their defence intact, Nigeria went down the other end of the field and broke the deadlock through Ibrahim Beji Muhammad, before Rilwanu Sarki made sure of the Flying Eagles’ shock win with an injury-time header.
Having been put to the sword 2-0 by Brazil in their final group game, many expected Nigeria to suffer the same fate at the hands of the Argentinians – who had 66% of the ball and 26 shots on the night – but Ladan Bosso’s well-drilled outfit are worthy of their first quarter-final appearance since 2011.
The Flying Eagles had suffered a trio of successive last-16 exits in 2013, 2015 and 2019 before the current edition, but their last two appearances in the quarter-finals in 2007 and 2011 both ended in defeat, and the two-time runners-up – like South Korea – are also still waiting for their maiden World Cup crown at this level.
South Korea and Nigeria are familiar foes from tournaments gone by – the Asian nation won their first battle 2-1 in the 2005 group stage before the Flying Eagles earned a slice of revenge with a 1-0 triumph in 2013 – and whichever team makes it third time lucky will be rewarded with a semi-final date versus Colombia or Italy.
South Korea Under-20s Under-20 World Cup form:
Nigeria Under-20s Under-20 World Cup form:
The match will start by 6:30pm Nigeria time.