TEMBISA, June 7 – Nigeria delivered a World Cup boost to thousands of supporters here on Sunday with a 3-1 triumph over fellow qualifiers North Korea in a warm-up marred by injuries to 16 people.
The stampede victims included two police officers, who tried to prevent ticketless fans forcing their way into a ground being used as a training base by the 2000-1 outsiders from the far East.
A ‘Super Eagles’ squad that battled just to qualify for South Africa face a difficult Group B debut on June 12 against Argentina and drab draws last month with Saudi Arabia and Colombia deflated morale.
But they always had the measure of the busy but largely toothless Koreans at Makhulong Stadium in this sprawling township north-east of Johannesburg after Everton striker Yakubu Aigeybeni scored on 16 minutes.
Obinna Nsofor converted a penalty midway through the second half, Tae-Se Jong reduced arrears almost immediately and substitute Obafemi Martins confirmed the dominance of the ‘Eagles’ with a late goal.
This was the final warm-up for both teams with Korea also starting against South American opposition in the shape of record five-time winners Brazil on June 15 in Johannesburg.
The Asians had fullback Jong-Hyok Cha sent off when trailing 2-1 after he disputed a decision by the Niger referee to flash a yellow card for not retreating sufficiently at a free kick.
Coaches Lars Lagerback and Jong-Hun Kim experimented with Martins sitting on the bench until late in the game while Russia-based striker Yong-Jo Hong appeared only for the second 45 minutes.
Slick passing set Yakubu clear after early Nigeria pressure and he gave goalkeeper Myong-Guk Ri no chance with a fierce close-range shot that flew into the far corner.
Jong, one of two Japan-based stars in the Korean line-up, impressed up front only to be starved of support in a 5-3-2 system adopted by a country back at the World Cup after a 44-year absence.
Ri guessed correctly by diving to his right for the Nsofor spot kick, but the low penalty had power and accuracy that gave a star of the 16-match Korean qualifying campaign no chance.
Jong got his reward for tireless running and deft touches by intercepting a careless cross-field pass from Elderson Echiejile and giving goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama no chance.
Nigeria put the result beyond doubt five minutes into added time when a cross eluded Ri and unmarked former Newcastle United striker Martins nodded over the line.