Paraguay 3, Nigeria 1
TOULOUSE, France (AP) _ A 51-second header by Celso Ayala helped Paraguay to a 3-1 victory over Nigeria on Wednesday and into the second round of the World Cup.
The victory over the already-qualified Africans made sure the South Americans clinched second place in the Group D standings and will now face host France in Lens on Sunday for a place in the quarterfinal. Paraguay held on to second by a point despite Spain’s 6-1 thrashing of Bulgaria in Lens.
Ayala’s header was the fastest World Cup goal since Bryan Robson’s 27-second strike for England against France in Bilbao, Spain, in 1982.
After enduring 180 minutes of tedious, goal-less soccer against Bulgaria and Spain, Paraguay needed less than one minute to hit the target against Nigeria.
Francisco Arce swung over a free kick from the right and, with the Nigerian defense stationary, Ayala jumped unchallenged to beat goalkeeper Peter Rufai’s attempted punch and head into an unguarded net.
The goal sparked Nigeria’s talented strikeforce into action and the Africans, fielding only four of their regular starting lineup, equalized in the 11th minute.
Nwankwo Kanu slipped an elegant pass through to overlapping winger Tijani Babangida and the Ajax forward cut inside, was felled by a Paraguayan defender, but still found the unmarked Wilson Oruma 13 meters (yards) from goal. Oruma, who plays for French club Lens, side-footed home.
The Nigerians didn’t ease off and Paraguay’s star goalkeeper, Jose Luis Chilavert, was kept busy, saving acrobatically from Sunday Oliseh’s shot, Taribo West’s header and Rasheed Yekini’s shot all in the space of six minutes.
Paraguay started the second half in the same mood as in its opening spell and Rufai had to dive at the foot of the post to turn an 18-meter shot from Hugo Brizuela round the post.
But Nigeria wasted a great chance to go ahead in the 57th minute when Yekini turned a defender and ran clear with only Chilavert to beat but toe-poked tamely at the ’keeper.
It looked like an even worse miss when Paraguay regained the lead two minutes later.
There seemed little danger when Carlos Paredes fed Benitez with a sideways pass. But the Nigerian defense allowed the Paraguayan midfielder far too much room to shoot and he powered a rising shot that brushed the fingertips of the diving ’keeper Rufai on the way into the net.
The Paraguayans could have made it 3-1 in the 74th minute when Rufai ran out of his area and lost the ball as he tried to dribble around Jose Cardozo. The ball ran to Brizuela who had two defenders to beat but shot well wide of the net.
But the Paraguayans made sure five minutes from the end when Cardozo was left unmarked close to the Nigerian goal and spun to fire an angled shot inside the far post.
Nigeria_Peter Rufai; Augustine Eguavoen, Ben Iroha, Uche Okafor, Taribo West; Tijani Babangida, Garba Lawal, Sunday Oliseh (Godwin Okpara, 46th), Wilson Oruma (Finidi George, 69th); Nwankwo Kanu, Rasheed Yekini.
Paraguay_Jose Luis Chilavert, Francisco Arce, Celso Ayala, Denis Caniza (Juan Carlos Yegros, 56th), Carlos Gamarra, Pedro Sarabia; Miguel Benitez (Roberto Acuna, 68th), Julio Cesar Enciso, Carlos Paredes; Hugo Brizuela (Aristides Rojas, 79th), Jose Cardozo.
Referee_Pirom Un-Prasert, Thailand.