Nine-time African champions, Super Falcons of Nigeria were by far the better team despite a 2-4 penalty shoot-out defeat by England at the Round of 16 of the 9th FIFA Women’s World Cup finals on Monday.
The magnificent Africans stood toe-to-toe with the Three Lionesses, ranked 36 places above them, and should have scored in the first quarter-hour when England-based defender Ashley Plumptre rocked the sticks with a shot from 22 yards and then followed up with another that went narrowly away.
Goalkeeper and on-field captain Chiamaka Nnadozie, defenders Michelle Alozie, Osinachi Ohale, Oluwatosin Demehin and Plumptre, midfielders Halimatu Ayinde, Christy Ucheibe and Toni Payne, and forwards Rasheedat Ajibade, Uchenna Kanu and Ifeoma Onumonu played with hearts of Lionesses and subdued the European champions without stepping into fifth gear.
England thought they had a penalty kick as the first half wore on, but a review justifiably nullified it, and the Falcons then stepped up their game without fear or tremor.
The European champions were reduced to 10 women when star-girl Lauren James was red-carded minutes to the end of the encounter at Brisbane’s Lang Park, and the Super Falcons revved up the engine to make the advantage count. But substitute Asisat Oshoala saw her shot from close range go straight into the hands of goalkeeper Mary Earps as the curtain began to wind down on extra time play.
Both teams missed their first kicks in the shoot-out, with Desire Oparanozie, who was playing her first minutes in the competition, dragging her effort too wide to the right of Earps.
Hardworking defender Michelle Alozie blasted her kick wide, and though Ajibade and Ucheibe made no mistake from the spot, the Three Lionesses also made no more mistakes and reached the quarterfinals, to play the winner of the encounter between Colombia and Jamaica.
“I’m so proud of them, to come in and play like we did tonight. We had every opportunity to get it done. Unfortunately, we couldn’t quite get it done. We had the best chances, we hit the crossbar twice. When it gets to penalties, it’s anyone’s game,” said Randy Waldrum, Nigeria coach.
Sarina Wiegman, England coach said: “Lots of things are going through my head but the first thing is we stuck together as a team. It was a very, very hard game, then we had a red card and made it through extra time and then penalties, and how we did that as a team, we just kept going. I’m so proud of them. It says so much about this team. Not one game has been easy. We knew before this game, we said this is not an easy game, they are very organised, very physical and that’s exactly what we saw but we made it through and I’m really happy.”