U.S. falls to Nigeria in teams' opening match of FIFA Under-17 World Cup
The United States conceded two quick goals at the start of the second half to fall 2-0 to Nigeria in its first match at the 2015 FIFA Under-17 World Cup. Nigeria, the defending champion, dominated most of the game and finished with a 19-4 shot advantage.
Nigeria came out nervously but soon settled into the game after winning a pair of corner kicks within the first five minutes. Neither led to a clear-cut opportunity, but forward Victor Osimhen did get behind the U.S. defense in the 10th minute through the run of play before skewing a shot wide off the outside of his foot.
U.S. playmaker and Borussia Dortmund midfielder Christian Pulišić created two chances for the U.S. not long after, though Nigerian goalkeeper Akpan Udoh cut out one cross before Haji Wright put another from close range over the bar. Pulišić was consistently the brightest American player at both ends, driving toward the endline in attack and winning multiple challenges in defense.
Nigeria continued to threaten throughout the first half and put several crosses toward Will Pulišić’s goal. Right back John Lazarus in particular overlapped frequently and looked for central teammates with crosses from all angles. Most of them went wayward and the American goalkeeper finished the first half with a solitary save to his name.
That effort came in the 42nd minute off another Nigerian corner, but Osimhen’s header bounced once before nestling comfortably into Will Pulišić’s hands. On the other end, the slight attacking flurry spearheaded by Christian Pulišić and sporadic set pieces aside, Udoh had little to do.
Nigeria’s pressure would finally pay off just five minutes into the second half. U.S. center back Auston Trusty scuffed his clearance on another Lazarus cross from the right, barely getting it outside the six-yard box. Funsho Bamgboye had his follow-up shot blocked by Hugo Arellano, but Chukwudi Agor buried the second rebound from close range.
Osimhen’s persistence resulted in the second Nigerian goal in the 61st minute, as he ran onto a header from Agor off an American goal kick to put his shot past Will Pulišić. The goal seemed to inspire Nigeria and further break down the U.S.’s confidence, as the Golden Eaglets continued to control the tempo and finished with 58 percent possession over 90 minutes.
U.S. coach Richie Williams waited until going down two goals to make an attacking substitution, pulling off Haji Wright for Luca de la Torre. Alejandro Zendejas moved to right wing, with de la Torre taking up his usual position in central midfield next to Christian Pulišić.
That gave some life to the American attack, mostly focused down the right flank, but didn’t result in any obvious chances. Nigeria still looked likelier to score, and Udochukwu Anumudu forced Will Pulišić to palm his swerving shot over the crossbar in the 75th minute.
The U.S. threw numbers forward as the clock wound down, but Nigeria’s defense held firm. To finish off a frustrating day, Trusty saw a straight red card as he stood on Osimhen’s lower leg after fouling the Nigerian forward with three minutes remaining.
The Americans now face another tough opponent in Croatia on Tuesday, and a second loss could end the U.S.’s chances of advancing past the group stage before facing host nation Chile in the final group game on Friday.