Medellin, Colombia, Aug 1: Two of the early favorites in the Under-20 World Cup came through as expected with Spain and Nigeria picking up victories on Sunday as the first round of group play wrapped up.
Spain defeated Costa Rica 4-1 in Group C, and Australia drew 1-1 with Ecuador. In Group D, Nigeria trounced Guatemala 5-0 and Saudi Arabia defeated Croatia 2-0.
Spain is the favorite for many—along with Argentina and Brazil—with its U-20 team playing the same kind of touch-touch-touch football that brought the senior team the World Cup last year in South Africa.
The first round of matches also unearthed a few surprises. Egypt looked very strong in a 1-1 draw with Brazil, Colombia seems to be in the mix after thrashing France 4-1, and South Korea looked like a contender after a 2-0 victory over Mali.
Spain got two goals from Rodrigo Moreno with others from Koke and Isco. Like the Brazilians, Spanish players seem to be going more and more by a single name.
John Ruiz pulled a goal back for Costa Rica in the 66th and the Central Americans had chances to equalize in the next few minutes before Koke scored in the 81st and Isco netted a penalty in stoppage time.
“Costa Rica played a great game,” Spain coach Julen Lopetegui said. “They put us under lots of pressure and they could have tied the match. I hope the result gives us confidence. We are aware it was not a 4-1 game, but a much closer one. And we will have to improve.”
Midfielder Sergio Canales, who has moved on loan to Valencia from Real Madrid, missed the match with a leg injury.
“There is not too much to say after a 4-1 loss,” Costa Rica coach Ronald Gonzalez said. “We thought we were close to making it 2-2 and we probably did not score goals we deserved. ... It's a shame that the score looks so one-sided when it was really much closer.”
Spain faces Ecuador in its next match on Wednesday, while group rival Australia plays Costa Rica on the same day.
Australia got lucky, drawing its match in the 89th minute on Tommy Oar's soaring, 30-meter (yard) free kick after Juan Govea gave Ecuador the lead in the 24th.
Australia was outplayed for much of the match and seldom looked threatening against the quicker, better organized South Americans.
Nigeria showed it will contend in its lopsided victory over Guatemala in Group D. Edafe Egbedi scored twice with other goals from Abdul Ajagun, Olarenwaju Kayode and Ahmed Musa.
This is Nigeria's eighth appearance in the tournament and the west Africans are still searching for their first title.
On Wednesday, Nigeria faces Croatia and Guatemala is up against Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia got off to a strong start when Yasir Alfahmi scored in the 54th minute and Fhad Almuwallad adding another in the 69th.
On Monday, six-time champion Argentina leads Group F and faces England, with Mexico going against North Korea.
In Group E where all teams have one point, Egypt plays Panama and Brazil faces Austria. AP