Nigeria advanced to the FIFA Women’s World Cup knockout stages for the third time in their history after a 0-0 draw with Ireland in their final Group B match on Monday, with the African side finishing second in the group behind hosts Australia.
Nigeria began the game top of the standings and only had to keep away from losing to reach at the round of 16, no matter what the outcome in the other Group B match in Melbourne where Australia whipped Canada 4-0 to jump the Africans.
Nigeria will play their next opponents in the round-of-16 one week from now in Brisbane. Nonetheless, they are probably going to play European champions England who are the favourites to top Group D.
“I don’t think anybody, before we got here, believed that we could get out of this group and go through it without losing a match,” Nigeria coach Randy Waldrum said.
“So I’m so proud of them and the effort they put in and so happy for them that they’re getting to experience this.”
Both teams were playing in their away kits to avoid an all-green clash. However, despite Ireland’s early elimination, Brisbane’s Lang Park was a sea of green in the stands, with a lot of support for the team.
After Irish captain Katie McCabe streaked an early exertion wide, Nigeria came nearest to starting to lead the pack in the first half through striker Asisat Oshoala when they jumped on a wayward pass from Louise Quinn.
Oshoala was put forth through on goal with just the defender to beat yet the Barcelona striker shot wide to give Ireland a respite.
Uchenna Kanu rose above the Ireland defense seven minutes into the second half to direct a goal-bound header, but Courtney Brosnan made a quick stop to parry the ball over the crossbar and away to safety.
“It was an unbelievable ball into the box, one of those teasing ones I thought I could come at the last second. I dropped back and I knew I needed to make a special save on the line, so I just kind of threw my body out,” said Brosnan.
“I wanted to keep us in it. I knew we deserved something from today, so I’m really happy with that.”
When Nigeria attempted to break through Ireland’s defense with a clever set-piece routine, Brosnan came to Ireland’s rescue once more before the Everton keeper rushed off her line to grab the ball.
Nigeria will be looking to improve on their 1999 quarterfinal run, while debutants Ireland will return home with their first World Cup point.
“We knew this was going to be the group of death, we knew it was going to be hard,” midfielder Toni Payne said.
“If we play like how we’re playing, if we improve on each game, I think we can go all the way to the final.”
In the other African game, Zambia, the lowest-ranked team at the Women’s World Cup, also defeated Costa Rica 3-1.
The debutants guaranteed their very first win at the Women’s World Cup at the Waikato Arena on Monday July 31, although the two teams were at that point, out of the competition at the knockout stage.
Zambia, whose firsr two games finished in 5-0 hammerings, finished third in Group C, with Japan top after their 4-0 whipping of Spain. In their three matches, Costa Rica failed to score a point and finished last.
At two minutes and 11 seconds, defender Lushomo Mweemba scored the fastest goal of the tournament with a spectacular volley, and captain Barbra Banda doubled the lead from the penalty spot shortly after the half-hour mark.
Zambia were given the spot kick after Banda went to the ground inside the six yard box and the forward moved forward to space the ball into the base left corner, scoring the 1,000th goal in Women’s World Cup history serenely.
Costa Rica, in their second World Cup, were still looking for their first victory. In the second half, after goalkeeper Catherine Musonda failed to clear the ball, Melissa Herrera bundled the ball home to make it 2-1.
After midfielder Priscila Chinchilla collided with Musonda in the box, Costa Rica requested a penalty. However, after a lengthy VAR check, replays revealed that forward Sheika Scott was offside in the buildup.
Herrera had the ball in the net again with around 20 minutes remaining but was flagged offside and Valeria Del Campo terminated wide previously, contrary to the rules, Zambia’s Racheal Kundananji scored from Banda’s cross in stoppage time to seal a noteworthy success.