Marlins fans might be moping in the wake of the team’s latest fire sale, but the mood at Marlins Park on Wednesday night was extremely festive as the Venezuelan and Nigerian national soccer teams played an action-packed exhibition, the first sporting event that was not baseball held at the new stadium.
It turns out the outfield home run sculpture, with its colorful flamingos and palm trees, is also set in motion by goals, as well. It went off four times as Nigeria defeated Venezuela 3-1 in a game that featured 28 shots on goal — 14 from each team.
Triple Crown winner and former Marlins star Miguel Cabrera, a Venezuelan and diehard soccer fan, was a guest of honor and delivered the ceremonial opening kick. Venezuelan fans wore their traditional Vinotinto (red wine) burgundy jerseys and heavily outnumbered the green-clad fans of the Super Eagles among the crowd of 13,372.
One group of Venezuelan fans banged drums and danced the entire night. But it was the Nigerian team celebrating most on the field.
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The Super Eagles took a 1-0 lead in the 49th minute on a close-range shot from Ideye Brown, who plays for Dynamo Kiev in Ukraine. Igiebor Nosa of Spanish club Real Betis got the ball in the box, and passed to Kwambe Solomon, who tapped it to Brown.
Three minutes later, Nigeria made it 2-0 on a 30-yard blast by Nosa.
Frank Feltscher put Venezuela on the scoreboard in the 69th minute with a perfect set-up from Juan Arango, who plays in the German Bundesliga.
The Venezuelans had two apparent goals waved off, both for hand balls. The first was in the 15th minute. Cesar Gonzalez seemed to score off a curling free kick, but the referee ruled it nicked the arm of a Venezuelan player in the penalty area. In the 55th minute, Russia-based Salomon Rondon settled a pass with his chest and kicked it past Nigeria’s Israel-based goalkeeper Ejide Austine. Officials ruled that the ball bounced from Rondon’s chest onto his arm before it hit the ground.
Nigeria got its final goal in stoppage time. Onazi Ogenyi of Italian club Lazio snuck it past Venezuelan keeper Daniel Hernandez. The Super Eagles used the friendly as a tune-up for the African Nations Cup, which begins Jan. 19 in South Africa.
Venezuela, the only South American team never to reach a World Cup, is much improved under coach Cesar Farias and sits in fourth place midway through the South American 2014 World Cup qualifying tournament. The top four teams, plus host Brazil, earn direct berths to the 2014 World Cup.
Considering Wednesday’s match was held on a baseball field, the pitch held up nicely. The stadium grounds crew began preparing for the match in early October.
They removed the mound, covered the infield dirt with sod, and put down soccer markings. The field met FIFA regulations. It ran across the first-base line, with one goal between third base and home plate and the other in right field.
Marlins Park is set to host the Miami Soccer Challenge in January, an event featuring prominent club teams from Europe and Latin America. The teams have not yet been announced.