Nigeria won a penalty shootout to claim a place in the semi-finals at the end of an enthralling struggle in Augsburg. Ironically it was USA’s golden girl Sydney Leroux who missed with the US’ fifth penalty to seal the African side’s 4-2 victory, their captain Christine Nairn having seen her attemopt saved as well.
It was a notable triumph for the Falconets who had never before won a quarter-final in a FIFA womens competition and who had faltered at the last-eight stage on three previous occasions in the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. Ndem Egan’s team had been overrun in the second half but found their feet and plundered a magnificent equaliser through Helen Ukaonu late on. They now face Colombia in Thursday’s semi-final in Bielefeld in what is a major surprise with USA the two-time champions and the most successful team in the history of the competition.
US started confidently and it was clear newcomer Casey Short was going to enjoy some freedom down the left. In the sixth minute Kristie Mewis invited her to run on to a through ball with her marker left standing. It was a great chance but Alaba Jonathan saved well with her legs.
In the next instant a free-kick high up the field was rolled into the path of Mewis as the Nigeria defence slept. Fortunately for them Amarachi Okoronkwo had read the danger and was back to cover.
It all proved a preamble to the inevitable USA goal. Again it was poor defending that gifted them a generous amount of room. When a short corner was played to Mewis she was able to run several metres with nobody challenging. When she squared the ball across, Amber Brooks was on hand to side-foot her first goal of the tournament.
Nothing had been seen of Nigeria’s twin hot-shots, Ebere Orji and Desire Oparanozie though they did break out to land their first shot of the game with Cecilia Nku aiming high and wide. Normal service was quickly resumed as Zakiya Bywaters, operating down the right. moving infield before forcing two saves from the goalkeeper.
Nigeria did improve near the end of the first half but their efforts foundered on a rock known as Crystal Dunn who twice came in with well-timed and determined challenges.
The second half proved a reversal of what had gone on before with Nigeria now finding some confidence and taking control of the game. Oparanozie worried Bianca Henninger momentarily from distance but the goalkeeper pulled off a good save high up by the left-hand post.
Orji then had a chance as a long ball bounced high and threateningly inside the penalty area but there were enough defenders to rescue the situation. The Falconets clearly saw long shots as their route back into the contest. Esther Sunday was barely at the mid-point of the US half when she took aim and Henninger pushed it away.
Then in the 79th minute came a memorable equaliser. A free-kick was rolled into the path of Ukaonu who unleashed a lethal strike which flew into the top corner of the net, leaving Henninger helpless.
Nigeria were really buzzing now and Henninger was called into action again and again as Nigeria shot from far out. Dunn’s uncharacteristic slip almost allowed Orji in but another defender was there to shut out the daylight.
In extra-time Oparanozie passed up a glorious chance having evaded two challenges. With the goal gaping she stabbed it wide. US substitute Meg Morris drew a save and as Nigeria countered as pace, there was an opening for Orji but her attempt lacked power.
With seven minutes remaining Mewis crashed a shot off the bar and then saw a header tipped over the top.