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Fri. 19th June:
The heat in Paris suited the Nigerians. The early possession was almost wholly theirs. In the seventh minute, Oliseh blasted a free kick through the wall that just shaved the outside of the post.
The five red cards of the previous day may have had a hand in the cautious middle period of this first-half. The Chilean referee seemed more interested in letting play run though, and it wasn't until the nineteenth minute that he booked the Nigerian, Adepoju. Shirt pulling by both sides was not seen, or more probably ignored.
In the 26th minute Nigeria started to play like Brazil. A move from Jay-Jay Okocha involved three swift, sharp, successive passes before it reached Ikpeba in the Bulgarian area. He turned his defender, and slipped it under Zdravkov.
The pace of the game livened up, although Stoitchkov and Kostadinov wasted chances for Bulgaria by trying to be the best on the field, instead of using each other for the best interest of the team. Nigeria on the other hand were moving fluidly together: Lawal on the left; crossed deep, and the ball was headed back to Ikpeba in the middle of the area again.
In the 40th minute a Bulgarian corner was punched out to Stoitchkov. The first time volley straight back to the boxer. Shortly after, Balakov did well to head on a ball for himself and run on to lob Rufai; who could only turn and watch it go wide. (Half-time: 1-0).
The second half ticked along at medium pace, with the most attractive build-ups coming from Nigeria, and Stoitchkov grumbling as usual. In the 65th minute, the Bulgarian legend wasted an easy chance in front of goal, by his standards, and tried to bury his head in the turf.
Rashidi Yekini came on for the last fifteen minutes and almost set up Finidi. Nigeria should have sealed it eight minutes before the end, but messed up in front of an open goal.
Bulgaria were not out of it, and Kostadinov skimmed the bar in the 86th minute. The result is enough to take Nigeria into the second round.
(Final Score: 1-0).
Spain desperately needed to win this one, or at least not loose again. Another one of those matches where the will to win was missing.
The early attacking came from Paraguay, much to the disappointment of the thousands of Spanish fans who made the journey across the Pyrennes to St. Etienne.
Just after the quarter hour, the Spaniards started to come into the game. A Pizzi header towards the top left was pushed away by Chilavert, in the 20th minute. Chilavert slapped his defenders on the backside and tried to gee them up. On the half hour, Sergi tried a run on the left wing.
For the most part though, watching George Best's beard grow would have been more exciting. Chilavert tried to get a few laughs by pinching a photographer's baseball cap when he went to collect another wide shot. The lensman, sitting on his camera-case, didn't think it was too funny though.
Then in the thirty-eighth minute Chilavert went up to take a Paraguay free-kick. He tried to psyche up the Spanish number 1 by suggesting that a goalkeeper would score against him, but crashed the attempt into the wall.
Spain seemed to click into over-drive every fifteen
minutes, and again they came close just before half-time. Raul received the ball in the
area and turned his marker, Gamarra, only for Chilavert to palm away the shot. Pizzi was
there again to follow up -- blocked away by Ayala.
Ten minutes into the second-half, Pizzi was replaced by Raul's Real Madrid partner Francisco Morientes to see if the chemistry would work for Spain.
Benitez ran the ball alone down the left for Paraguay, and fired in for an equally impressive flying save from Zubizaretta. Raul's time to impress had run out, and he was replaced by Kiko of Athletic Madrid.
Arce was booked for taking too long over a corner towards the end. Both Arce and the referee knew that it was a farce and laughed. No hard feelings.
A 49th minute free-kick right on the line of the area for Spain. Another blank. Paraguay acted as if they had won. I guess that says what they played for. Can Chilavert score against Nigeria?
Nigeria win group D, and anyone can finish second.
(Final Score: 0-0).
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