The Nigerian Falconets on Wednesday at the ongoing 10th FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup in Costa Rica advanced to the quarter-finals in grand style.
The Falconets qualified by setting a World Cup group stage perfect record for themselves after beating Canada 3-1 in Alajuela.
The feat enabled them to finish with nine points in Group C.
Despite hard-fought victories over France and South Korea, the Nigerian side were favourites to win the match even though they had already secured a final eight place.
They did concede their first goal of the competition in the match, but they never looked back after drawing level after that. Goalkeeper Omini Oyono’s poor management of a backpass from Jumoke Alani granted Kala Novak a fortuitous goal less than two minutes after kick-off.
“It was great for us to come back from that setback and also conceding first in the tournament. But we showed character and spirit after that, and that would be huge for us going forward in the competition,” team head coach Christopher Danjuma said after the match.
Esther Onyenezide, whose vicious curling shot earned all three points against South Korea late to send the Falconets into the last eight Sunday, soon drew them level.
She scored from the penalty kick spot in the 24th minute after Canadian defender Mia Pante had handled the ball from a Blessing Okpe shot in the penalty box.
The Falconets did look composed and surefooted in the middle with the return of Deborah Abiodun, who sat out the encounter with the Koreans.
Chiamaka Okwuchukwu also played an inspiring game after starting for the first time in the tournament.
Her firm header from an Okpe cross in the 15th minute had missed narrowly.
Onyenezide, however, went on to shoot Nigeria ahead, also from the penalty kick spot, in the 32nd minute. This was after Simi Awujo’s dangerous play against Mercy Idoko was penalised when Idoko went for a header from Rofiat Imuran’s inswinger.
In the added time of the first period, Idoko came close to scoring her first goal of the tournament, but her touch from another Imuran inswinger brushed the upright.
In the second half, the Falconets added pace and brilliant use of space to their game.
It was no surprise then when Imuran, again with a visionary cross, set up substitute Chioma Olise for Nigeria’s third goal.
Their imperial campaign in the group stage earns the Falconets a quarter-final date with The Netherlands in Alajuela on Sunday.