The Super Falconets on Monday advanced to the quarter-finals of the France 2018 U-20 Women’s World Cup in dramatic fashion, after grabbing a last-gasp equaliser against China in Dinan-Lehon.
The Nigerians needed a draw to advance in second place alongside Group D leaders Germany and were lucky to progress after a stoppage time own-goal by the Chinese themselves cancelled out Linyan Zhang’s 41st minute strike to break the Asians hearts.
Two-time finalists Falconets have reached the quarter-finals of every edition of the competition but it looked like this enviable record would be broken at the Stade du Clos Gastel when Zhang grabbed the opener just before the break.
The diminutive forward sold her Nigerian marker a dummy in the box before firing past a diving Chiamaka Nnadozie in goal for the Falconets, to give the Chinese a deserved lead.
The Falconets pushed hard in numbers in search of an equaliser in the second half, but found the Chinese backline and goalkeeper Huan Xu in resilient form until the end of 90 minutes.
However, with seconds left to play, substitute Aishat Bello’s dangerous cross from the right had captain Rasheedat Ajibade challenging for the ball with China right-back Jiaxing Dou.
Bello’s cross hit the Chinese defender before bouncing into the back of the net and sparking emotional celebrations from the Nigerians after French referee Stéphanie Frappart’s full-time whistle.
Nigeria thus advanced on four points; same as the Chinese but with a superior goals difference after losing their opening game to Germany 1-0 before a hard-fought 1-0 win over Haiti on Thursday.
But it was evident the Chinese were hard done by, not for lack of trying but for sheer luck, as the Asian girls wept profusely and uncontrollably in front of the 1,534 fans at the match venue.
The Falconets play Group C winners Spain, who played an entertaining 2-2 draw against USA in Dinan-Lehon same day, in Concaneau, on Thursday.
The draw ensured USA, most successful team of the competition alongside Germany with three titles, were eliminated from the competition for the first time in the group stage, while Japan joined the Spanish in the quarter-finals as Group C runners-up.
In other quarter-finals pairings, hosts France battle champions North Korea, England play Netherlands, while Japan slug it out against Germany, who reached the last eight on maximum points.