WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Francisca Ordega scored late for Nigeria to earn a 3-3 draw with Sweden in their Group D Women’s World Cup opener on Monday, signalling that Africa will be heard from during the month-long tournament.
A day after Germany crushed the Ivory Coast 10-0, the Super Falcons restored African pride with an all-out attacking style that won over the fans and shocked the fifth-ranked Swedes.
With Sweden hanging on for the win, Ordega ran onto a perfect pass from Ngozi Okobi and confidently fired the ball past charging goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl in the 87th minute.
”The Nigerian team is a praying team,“ said Super Falcons coach Edwin Okon, who knelt down to kiss the ground and pray after Ordega’s goal. ”We knew it is not over until it is over.
“We are a good team, it was just unfortunate in the first half we gave up two cheap goals.”
Nigeria, ranked 33 in the world, had Sweden on the back foot for much of the match but trailed 2-0 at halftime after an own goal by Desire Oparanozie and a tap-in from Nilla Fischer, both scores coming off Sweden corners and the product of sloppy defending.
But the speedy Nigerians continued to press forward in the second half and were rewarded for their enterprise as they scored twice in a three-minute burst from forwards Okobi and Asisat Oshoala, who out-muscled Fischer for the ball at the top of the penalty area and then coolly slotted home.
The reeling Swedes were quick to respond, regaining the lead at 3-2 when substitute Linda Sembrant kneed a cross past Nigeria’s goalkeeper Precious Dede.
One of the pre-tournament favourites to reach the July 5 final in Vancouver, Sweden now face a bigger challenge to emerge from a so-called ‘Group of Death’ that also includes the second-ranked United States and 10th-ranked Australia.
”This is a really tough group,“ acknowledged Sweden coach Pia Sundhage. ”It is the first game and people out there were a little bit nervous and at the end of the day we have a second game and a third and we will do better.
“I‘m very pleased we scored three goals, however, the fact we gave up a late equaliser I am not happy about that.”
Group D action resumes on Friday when Nigeria play Australia and the United States face Sweden.
Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes and Frank Pingue