Two-time runners-up Nigeria gave a sneak preview of their capabilities when they overcame torrential rain, an hour’s delay and more rain to defeat Europe’s top team France 1-0 in the opening match of Group C at the 10th FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup in Costa Rica on Friday morning.
Stormy conditions in San Jose, capital of the central American country, made fluid football impossible from the start, but midfield lubricator Esther Onyenezide still caused panic in the French team’s vital area with an intelligent free kick after only seven minutes.
Mexican referee Francia Gonzales opted to stop the game in the 20th minute as a tropical rainstorm made visibility impossible for both the combatants and the umpire. The game’s suspension lasted exactly one hour.
Eight minutes after resumption, Magnaba Folquet had to desperately head the ball away from goal as Nigeria pushed forward. However, within two minutes as the first half wound down, Nigeria skipper Oluwatosin Demehin and France defender Kysha Sylla were cautioned – a measure of the intensity of the battle.
In the second half, both teams fought even harder. Two minutes before the hour mark, Mercy Idoko just failed to connect properly at the tail end of a sweet team move, and 20 minutes from time, goalkeeper Oyono Omini provided a critical block in the vital area as France surged forward.
In the 72nd minute, substitute Chiamaka Okwuchukwu was hindered from getting anything positive as Flourish Sabastine got a cross into the French vital area. The game flowed from end to end as both teams attacked with zest and defended with resolution.
Substitute Jade Nassi thought she had put France ahead when she slotted home from a goalmouth melee that followed a corner kick in the 80th minute, but referee Gonzales consulted the Video Assistant Referee which correctly ruled out the strike for a foul on Omini.
Five minutes later, Nigeria got the goal that their push, effort and enterprise deserved when Flourish Sabastine, top scorer for the Falconets in the African qualifying series, raced onto a brilliant Mercy Idoko pass, kept her composure and slotted past goalkeeper Marie-Morgane Sieber with some flourish.
The Falconets’ next game is on Sunday against Korea Republic at the Estadio Alajuela Morera Soto. Victory in that game will automatically assure Nigeria of a place in the tournament’s quarter-finals.