Nigeria’s Falconets have reached the quarterfinals of FIFA World Cup U20 Women’s World Cup for the fifth time in the 10 editions of the tournament.
The girls did that in style in the early hours of Thursday by achieving a perfect result at the group phase beating Canada 3-1 after overcoming France and Korea Republic by a lone goal each in Group C.
Nigeria’s journey ended in the quarterfinals three times in a row in 2004, 2006, 2008 and in the last edition – France 2018.
Germany 2010 and 2014 in Canada were however Nigeria’s best performance, which the current team of coach Chris Danjuma aim to surpass their feat. Nigeria got to the final on both occasions, losing 0-2 to hosts Germany and 0-1 to France in Canada during which tournament Asisat Osuala delighted and won both the Player-of-the-Tournament (Golden Ball) and the top scorer (Golden Shoe) awards.
In between those feats was a fourth place finish at Japan 2012; in addition to a group stage exit in 2016 at Papua New Guinea.
Ahead of their last group match in the ongoing tournament in Costa Rica, Musa had said that his girls would seek to win despite a quarterfinal place already secured. This, he said, was to sustain the winning mentality following hard-fought victories over France and Korea Republic.
Nigeria will face Netherlands in the last eight on Sunday night, while Spain versus Mexico and Colombia v Brazil would have taken place earlier.
The last quarterfinal is between Japan and France, who ended up second best in Nigeria’s Group C.
If they pull through the Dutch challenge, the Falconets will take on either Spain or Mexico in the semifinal.
In the latest game, Nigeria conceded their first goal of the competition in an accidental manner, following goalkeeper Omini Oyono’s poor management of a back-pass from Jumoke Alani that granted Canada’s Kala Novak a fortuitous goal in less than two minutes.
“It was great for us to come back from that setback, and also conceding first in the tournament. We showed character and spirit, and that would be huge for us going forward in the competition”, Musa said after the match.
Esther Onyenezide, whose vicious curling shot earned all three points against Korea Republic late on to send the Falconets into the last eight on Monday morning, scored from the penalty spot in the 24th minute to pull the Nigerians level, after defender Mia Pante had handled the ball from a Blessing Okpe shot in the box.
The Falconets looked composed and sure-footed in the middle with the return of Deborah Abiodun, who sat out the encounter with the Koreans, while Chiamaka Okwuchukwu also played an inspired game after starting for the first time in the tournament. Her firm header from a Blessing Okpe cross in the 15th minute missed narrowly.
Onyenezide shot Nigeria ahead, also from the spot, in the 32nd minute minute, after Simi Awujo’s dangerous play against Mercy Idoko, as the latter went for a header from Rofiat Imuran’s inswinger, was penalised.
In the added time of first period, Idoko came close to scoring her first goal of the tournament, but her touch from another Imuran in-swinger kissed the upright.
In the second half, the Falconets added pace and brilliant use of space to their game, and it was no surprise when Imuran, again with a visionary cross, set up substitute Chioma Olise for Nigeria’s third goal.
Additional report: Sports Village Square