Paraguay Wins to Explode Into Second Round
By Howard Fendrich
Wednesday, June 24, 1998; 5:25 p.m. EDT
TOULOUSE, France A header in the opening 51 seconds by Celso Ayala helped Paraguay move into the second round of the World Cup on Wednesday with a 3-1 upset of Nigeria.
The victory over the already-qualified Africans made sure the South Americans clinched second place in Group D. They will face host France in Lens on Sunday for a place in the quarterfinals. Nigeria faces Denmark in Saint-Denis the same day.
Ayala's header was the fastest World Cup goal since Bryan Robson's 27-second strike for England against France in 1982.
After 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 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 the ball into an unguarded net.
The goal sparked Nigeria's talented strike force into action and the Africans, fielding only four regulars, tied it in the 11th minute.
Nwankwo Kanu slipped a pass through to winger Tijani Babangida and he cut inside the penalty area. Babangida was knocked down by a Paraguayan defender, but still found the unmarked Wilson Oruma, who side-footed home the tying goal.
The Nigerians didn't ease off and Paraguay's star goalkeeper, Jose Luis Chilavert, was kept busy.
But Paraguay started the second half in the same mood as in its opening spell and missed several excellent chances.
When it did score, it came from a seemingly tame play. Carlos Paredes fed Miguel Benitez with a sideways pass. The Nigerian defense allowed the Paraguayan midfielder far too much room and he powered a rising shot that brushed the fingertips of diving goalkeeper Rufai on the way into the net.
The Paraguayans made sure of advancing for only the second time they did it in 1986 five minutes from the end when Jose Cardozo was left free close to the Nigerian goal and spun to fire an angled shot inside the far post.
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press