Falconets qualify for quarter-final courtesy last gasp strike
Rasheedat Ajibade’s last minute strike earned the Nigeria a draw against China in the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in France. The result was enough to qualify the Falconets to the quarter final, where they will face Spain.
Nigeria needed at least a draw to qualify to the next round due to their superior goal difference compared to China.
After a 1-0 loss to Germany in their opening group stage, the Falconets limped to a tepid 1-0 win over Haiti, that ended the whooping girls of the group. China started with a 2-1 win against the Haitians but lost 2-0 to the superior Germans.
It set the fixture at the Stade du Clos Gastel as a game on the knife edge with Falconets getting the wee-bit of advantage. Things looked positive for Christopher Danjuma’s side, who were quick out the blocks seeking an advantage. Monday Gift’s header from the prodigiously talented, Rasheedat Ajibade lacked enough power to threaten goalkeeper Xu Huan in the opening minutes.
The Falconets had a scare in the 25th minute when the Chinese rattled the crossbar with a fine strike but immediately responded as it took an excellent save from Huan to deny Nigeria a goal. The goalkeeper produced a stunning save to keep out Peace Efih’s close range shot. The Chinese gained ascendancy after the half hour mark after a drop in the intensity of the Falconets.
The drop in intensity was finally punished as Linyan Zhang got China into the lead with her goal in the 41st minute.
Anam Imo was sent on to replace gift before half-time as the ladies set to claw their ways back into the game. Danjuma’s charges huffed and puffed and even could have gone behind by two goals but for Chiamaka Nnadozie’s top-draw save in the 86th minute.
It seemed like Nigeria’s sojourn to France was coming to a premature end as it trickled into additional time with China still in the lead. However, the young team lucked in on an equaliser that broke Chinese hearts.
In the 95th minute, in what was to be the final attacking foray by Nigeria, Aishat Bello was slipped in by her team-mate, played an exquisite low-cross towards the back post for the onrushing Ajibade. Ajibade couldn’t get to the cross but applied enough pressure for Dou Jiaxing to bundle the ball into her own net. It sparked delirious scenes from the bench. Danjuma broke into a sprint down the touch line, bodies piled on each other and Nigeria got through to the quarter-final. The sequel got it’s fitting end as the team huddled together got on their knees and broke into a rapturous and grateful chants of HALLELUYAH!