Nigeria stunned co-host Australia in Group B of the World Cup with a thrilling 3-2 defeat in Brisbane. Nigeria came out of the halftime break and scored two key goals to take the lead from Australia.
After Osinachi Ohale put Nigeria in the lead with a punctuating header into the net, Asisat Oshoala subbed into the game and quickly scored to give the Super Falcons a two-goal advantage over the Matildas.
In the final moments of the match, Alanna Kennedy converted a corner kick to a goal to lift the score to 3-2. Ultimately, Nigeria was able to hang onto the lead with only a few minutes left in the match.
This victory is coming twenty-four hours after the Republic of Ireland’s hopes of making the knockout stages were ended by Canada, the Nigerians pulled off a shock win to set up a fascinating final round of games.
They were level at the break. Emily van Egmond put the Aussies ahead in first-half stoppage time only for Uchenna Kanu to volley home an equaliser a couple of minutes later.
It was the introduction of Barcelona star Asisat Oshoala just after the hour mark that changed this absorbing game.
Her presence led to Osinachi Ohale’s scruffily putting Nigeria ahead on 65 minutes before Oshoala confidently knocked home the killer third soon after.
Alanna Kennedy got one back with a header nine minutes into injury time, but they couldn’t muster another goal in a nerve-shredding climax.
The Matildas would have sealed their place in the last 16 with a win here. Instead, they’re heading for a huge clash against Canada, who need a draw to progress.
Nigeria – the group’s fourth seed – takes on the Girls in Green knowing a point will also be enough for them to march on.
Any talk of that game being a dead rubber is now completely off the table. Australia and Canada will both be hoping for a favour from Vera Pauw’s side as the Super Falcons dare to dream.
Mary Fowler joined Sam Kerr on an all-star injury list after suffering a concussion in training on Tuesday. She was replaced by midfielder Van Egmond, who played off lone striker Caitlin Foord.
Nigeria sprung a couple of surprises. Oshuala had an off-key showing in their goalless draw against Canada, but her relegation to the bench still raised eyebrows. The decision would be spectacularly vindicated.
Australia started with intent. Foord and Raso snapped into tackles, the ever-busy Katrina Gorry looked to dictate the tempo and Ellie Carpenter overlapped at every opportunity.
But Nigeria settled, creating the first opening of note 10 minutes in when Uchenna Kanu escaped into space on the left side of the box and flashed in a ball that whizzed across the face of the goal.
The Aussies responded. Nigeria were caught napping as Gorry fed Steph Catley, who had time and space to lash in a shot that Chiamaka Nnadozie batted away.
Foord bent a decent effort a couple of yards beyond the top right corner as the contest threatened to open up.
Right on the half-hour mark, Raso missed a glorious chance to break the deadlock when Catley’s cross fell for her at the back post. A rushed close-range volley scuttled wide.
Eight minutes before the break Nnadozie almost gifted Australia a cheap opener when she failed to hold on to a corner. Foord had two cracks on it and both attempts were blocked by the impressive Ashleigh Plumptre.
Nigeria almost landed a sucker punch when Christy Ucheibe volley into the turf was helped on by a Plumptre flick. Arnold was completely wrong-footed as the ball trickled past the post.
It was a let-off the Aussies made full use of. After 45 minutes of toil, the opener was so simple.
Gorry released Foord down the left with a lovely cushioned pass, the forward slid a pass into the area and there was Emily van Egmond to guide home a controlled first-time finish.
That sparked an outpouring of relief on the Aussie side of the touchline, but Nigeria had shown all night they were capable of producing a sting.
Three further minutes into stoppage time, they executed it when Ajibade’s shot deflected off Carpenter and dropped kindly for Kanu to force a dribbly volley beyond Arnold.
Gorry was excellent again after shining against Ireland and Alozie exchanged pot shots early in the second half, and Nigeria continued to give as good as they got.
Payne and Christy Ucheibe offered really good offensive support to Kanu while deep-lying midfielder Rasheedat Ajibade was a tireless defensive shield.
On 63 minutes, Nigeria introduced Oshoala who immediately made an impact, forcing Clare Hunt into conceding a nervy corner.
The delivery caused chaos, the ball eventually breaking to Halimatu Ayinde. Her shot was parried by Arnold but only as far as Osinachi Ohale who bravely bundled it over the line, getting a kick in the ribs for her troubles.
In the 72nd minute, the home fans were numbed when Kennedy’s misjudged header back to Arnold was ruthlessly, brilliantly turned home by Oshoala from a difficult angle. She steamed towards the corner flag in riotous celebration.
Kennedy searching for redemption had a header dip inches over, then Foord belted in a good strike that needed Nnadozie’s fingertips to help it clear the bar.
Kennedy did give them hope with a 99th-minute header that looped into the corner, but it wasn’t enough. Australia moves on to Monday with work to do. Nigeria stands on the brink of a superb achievement.
Australia: Mackenzie Arnold, Ellie Carpenter, Clare Hunt, Alanna Kennedy, Steph Catley; Hayley Raso (Alex Chidiac 86), Katrina Gorry, Kyra Cooney-Cross, Cortnee Vine (Clare Polkinghorne 82); Emily van Egmond, Caitlin Foord
Nigeria: Chiamaka Nnadozie; Michelle Alozie, Osinachi Ohale, Oluwatosin Demehin, Ashleigh Plumptre (Glory Gbonna 77), Christy Ucheibe, Halimatu Ayinde, Uchenna Kanu (Asisat Oshoala 63), Toni Payne, Rasheedat Ajibade (Jennifer Echegini 77), Ifeoma Onumonu (Esther Okoronkwo 63)