FIFA WWC 2023: Magnificent Super Falcons edge co-hosts, eye Round of 16

In a sterling performance that earned a 3-2 win over co-host nation Australia in Brisbane on Thursday evening, Nigeria enhanced her chances of reaching the FIFA Women’s World Cup Round of 16 at the biggest-ever tournament in history.

The Super Falcons’ feat at the Lang Park, which was made colourful by 49,156 spectators, meant that Africa had at last won a match at the ongoing competition, and that the nine-time African champions have put a firm foot on the way to the knock-out stage. This will be achieved simply by doing the minimum against the Republic of Ireland at the same venue on Monday.

Coach Randy Waldrum left Barcelona Feminine ace Asisat Oshoala on the bench and started returnee Rasheedat Ajibade and Halimatu Ayinde, with Ifeoma Onumonu and Uchenna Kanu also starting.

The pomp and pageantry at the arena were enhanced as the Matildas began to impress in the early stages, caging the Falcons in their own half.

Goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie, hero of the first match against Canada in Melbourne, made a string of saves as the co-hosts showed no signs of missing four of their regulars, including captain Sam Kerr and defender Mary Fowler.

The din in the stands was overwhelming with one minute into added time in the first half, when Emily Van Egmond sneaked into the Nigeria box to toe-poke the ball past Nnadozie from a flowing move.

Dauntless, the only African team to have played in all editions of the FIFA Women’s World Cup restored parity four minutes later, as Uchenna Kanu stayed very alert to sweep the ball into the net from Rasheedat Ajibade’s deflected cross.

Both teams saw shots whistle over the other’s bar in the early exchanges in the second half, but Nigeria shot into the front for the first time in the game when, in the 65th minute, defender Osinachi Ohale bundled the ball over the line after Rasheedat Ajibade’s header proved too hot for the goalkeeper to handle.

Substitute Asisat Oshoala made it three for Nigeria minutes later, profiting from a mishap in the opponents’ box after Alanna Kennedy headed past her onrushing goalkeeper and left an empty net for Oshoala to make hay with a volley.

The goal, coming only a few minutes after she replaced Onumonu, made Oshoala the first African to score in three FIFA World Cup finals, having also netted at the finals in Canada in 2015 and in France in 2019.

Kennedy would later salve her conscience, when she rose highest in the box to score Australia’s second goal from a corner kick by Cooney-Cross10 minutes into added time of the second period.

Nnadozie was again rock-solid, saving a close-range header and another point-blank shot in the closing stages to give Nigeria victory.

Nigeria captain Onome Ebi also made history, extending her record as the African player to have featured in most FIFA World Cup tournaments, when she came in with minutes to the end, to play in her sixth World Cup finals.

Victory catapulted Nigeria to the top of Group B, and has enhanced the Falcons’ chances of a spot in the knock-out stages. Canada, who defeated Republic of Ireland on Wednesday, lie second also with four points, while Australia stays third with three points.

The Super Falcons are up against eliminated Republic of Ireland on Monday, while the co-hosts take on Canada. A draw will be enough for the Falcons to make progress, no matter the outcome of the other match.   

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