Brisbane Stadium, Australia
Nigeria stunned co-hosts Australia at the Women’s World Cup on Thursday, earning a famous 3-2 victory.
Emily van Egmond sent the home fans into delirium just before the interval, tapping home a sweeping move to give Australia the lead.
With the stadium bouncing as the Australia fans celebrated, Uchenna Kanu delivered the first sucker punch to dampen the mood at the Brisbane Stadium, somehow managing to scramble home a scuffed cross to score Nigeria’s first goal of the 2023 tournament.
In the second half, a close-range header from Osinachi Ohale and Asisat Oshoala’s finish from a tight angle extended Nigeria’s lead. By scoring Oshoala became the first African player to score at three Women’s World Cups.
And although Alanna Kennedy did score in the 10th minute of added time to give Australia late hope, Nigeria held on for a memorable victory to send the Super Falcons top of Group B.
The result means Nigeria has a one point lead going into its final group game against already eliminated Ireland, while Australia face a must-win match against Canada, sitting a point behind the Olympic champion.
“I’m so proud of them,” said Nigeria head coach Randy Waldrum. “I told them after the match nobody believed in us except us. We had that belief together we can accomplish great things, and they did that.”
Waldrum added: “It came on pure heart and desire to compete and fight. They were throwing everything at us at the end, and the players just repelled everything. I think it’s just a credit to them to put that kind of effort in to get this result. Who would have thought we’d score three goals on Australia?”
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A World Cup host playing in front of its own fans is always a spectacle.
An energetic crowd, full of energy and song, cheering on their favorite players decked out in their home kit; and at the Brisbane Stadium, it was no different.
The bouncing fans, in their gold and green kits, serenaded the Matildas in their game against Nigeria – both teams’ second match of the Women’s World Cup.
As Australia came forward in waves of attacks, cheers peaked then fell each time the Matildas got the ball, sliding into a communal sigh when the chance to score slipped away.
A drum beat marked time in the background as Australian fans spontaneously broke into a synchronized clap, willing their team to the other end of the pitch.
Those fans’ passion and commitment was eventually rewarded, Van Egmond steering a well-directed cross into the bottom corner and ran to celebrate with the rest of her teammates and coaching staff.
The goal was met with thunderous, almost deafening applause and it looked like Australia, who had beaten Ireland in its opening group game, was well on its way to booking its spot in the knockout stages of the Women’s World Cup.
But the Super Falcons had other ideas.
Rasheedat Ajibade’s cross deflected to Kanu in the middle of the box and, in between a sea of legs, the 26-year-old was able to get just enough of a touch to send the ball into the net.
There was euphoria from the vastly outnumbered supporters of Nigeria in the crowd who were on their feet waving flags and jumping up and down seconds after the equalizer, while the Australian fans looked despondent and dejected.
After the break, Australia continued to create chances, spurning opportunities from good positions in an attempt to retake the lead.
However, slightly against the run of play, it was Nigeria who scored next.
In the second phase of play from a corner, Ajibade’s goalward header could only be parried by Australia goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold and Ohale was the lucky beneficiary, heading home whilst getting a kick in the stomach for her bravery.
After so much optimism heading into the game, it was a sobering goal for the Australia fans. And things only got worse when Oshoala capitalized on some poor communication between Mackenzie and her defense to tap home and increase Nigeria’s lead.
While Australian fans tried to grasp how their team had shipped three goals, small pockets of Nigerian fans were joyfully dancing in the crowd, while putting their hands in the air.
Despite constant Australia pressure and an unrelenting bombardment of set pieces – the home side did eventually make one of its 15 corners count when Kennedy headed home in injury time – Nigeria was able to withstand and avoid an equalizer.
The Mathildas have been without star striker Sam Kerr with a calf injury, with the team initially saying she would miss the opening two games.
Kerr could be in line to return against Canada, with her team needing to beat the North American team to be sure of reaching the last 16 of the Women’s World Cup. If Australia draw with Canada, it would need Nigeria to lose to the Republic of Ireland by at least two goals to make it through.