Nigeria secure last-16 spot and possible England clash after draw with Ireland

Nigeria progressed to the last 16 of the Women’s World Cup after a goalless draw against the Republic of Ireland. In a narrow and competitive encounter in front of more than 24,000 spectators, a point was enough for Randy Waldrum’s side to finish second in Group B.

Waldrum was keen to praise his “amazing group of women” after the Super Falcons advanced from the group stage undefeated, matching their achievements in 2019. “It was a huge task to do that,” he said. “When you look at the Olympic gold medallists [Canada], and obviously Australia and Ireland as well – if you were to ask me before the tournament realistically what the odds were of doing that, I probably wouldn’t have believed. But I think it’s a testament to these players.

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“They’ve not been given everything that maybe other federations have but once they got the opportunity to get here, they put everything into it … I just feel like they all believe we’re destined for something special here.”

Nigeria may feel they could have troubled Ireland more but they progress to a tie against the winners of Group D, potentially England. “Why not play England?” Waldrum said. “Bring on the European champions. It seems like it’s fitting that we get them. We will come up with a plan so don’t count us out.”

Nigeria returned here after the high of their enthralling victory over the co-hosts Australia on Thursday knowing a draw would be enough. Waldrum made only one change: with their prolific striker Asisat Oshoala fit to start, Ifeoma Onumonu dropped to the bench.

Ireland have proved in Australia that they can compete with the world’s best and they were determined to make their final appearance in their first major tournament count. Vera Pauw was able to bring Heather Payne back into defence after she had pulled up in the warm-up before the game against Canada, and the midfielder Lily Agg earned her first World Cup start.

Nigeria’s Asisat Oshoala is unable to find a way past the Ireland goalkeeper, Courtney Brosnan.

Nigeria’s Asisat Oshoala is unable to find a way past the Ireland goalkeeper, Courtney Brosnan. Photograph: Darren England/EPA

Nigeria started on the front foot, looking to build on the momentum they had gathered across this tournament. Pauw had warned that her team had a “huge task on our plate” because the Super Falcons were “physically strong”, “skilful” and “extremely fast”. Looking to beat the Ireland defence on pace, Oshoala and Toni Payne were full of running, trying to force their opponents into an error. They were almost rewarded when Louise Quinn’s clearance was cut out by Oshoala, who advanced but fired wide.

As the half wore on, Ireland settled and began to dominate possession. Half-chances came and went with Katie McCabe and Denise O’Sullivan having joy breaking between the lines. Their best opportunity came, as so often, off a delivery from their captain, McCabe. A pinpoint left-foot cross was headed back across goal by Quinn, only for Kyra Carusa to nod it into the arms of Chiamaka Nnadozie from eight yards.

Waldrum will have been well aware that Ireland have a tendency of dropping off immediately after the interval and Nigeria came out full or running. The chances were arriving, and they were denied by a world-class stop from Ireland’s Courtney Brosnan. Uchenna Kanu’s powerful header off Toni Payne’s delivery looked destined to hit the net but the goalkeeper, showing cat-like reactions, somehow tipped it on to the post.

Ireland weathered the storm and with changes on both sides the game petered out with Pauw’s team in control of the ball. In a year in which Ireland have made so much progress, it was a historic first point at a major tournament.

Pauw said: “Those players came into the tournament as very good players, they go out of the tournament as world stars. It will change their lives, not only in the experience that they have but they will get other contracts, they will get more opportunities and the next generation can step in.”

Waldrum finished a little frustrated despite being pleased with his team’s defensive stability. “We’ve got to be very good defensively. I think considering the short amount of time we’ve been together, we’ve been able to do a good job of that. We were 20 spots below all the teams at a minimum in the Fifa rankings [actually 18 below Ireland] … So honestly I’m a little bit disappointed we didn’t get the result because I thought we very easily could have.”

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