BY FOLAKE SOLAJA
After nearly 50 hours of waiting, Nigeria Super Falcons finally made it to the Round of 16. It was more of an escape by the skin of their teeth. They had to wait till the last minute of the added time of the last match of the group series to be assured of a place.
What an agonizing wait of fluctuating fortunes! At first, when Argentina played a 3-3 draw with Scotland in Group D on Wednesday, it was like the coast was clear for the Nigerian side to advance.
The 3-3 draw meant that Argentina had fallen on the way side among thr third-placed teams having obtained two points as against Nigeria’s three. That result was a morale booster prompting Nigeria to resume training and had an hour 30 minutes session at Stade Edemond Blanchet on Thursday morning.
But enthusiasm later died Thursday evening when Cameroon unexpectedly overpowered New Zealand 2-1 in added time to overtake Nigeria on technical ground.
Although both African neigbouring countries had three points apiece and two goals difference, Cameroon had the advantage on account of better rating on fairplay sheet.
No thanks to the three yellow cards and an expulsion Nigerian players had which put their scores on fairplay sheet at minus eight. Cameroon had minus six.
So, qualification was delayed, but not denied. That Narrowed Nigeria’s chances to the last matches of Group F, especially where Chile faced Thailand. Going into the match, both had no point and Thailand had a goal deficit of 19 while Chile had minus five and needed at least a three goal margin to upstage Nigeria.
They nearly did. After a goalless first half, the South American benefited from a Thai own goal when Goalkeeper Waraporn Boonsing parried the ball into her net. It was the first ever goal for Chile in World Cup history.
After a purposeful break down the Chile’s right by Daniela Zamora, she finds Yanara Aedo. Her effort rebounds back off the post, and Goalkeeper Boonsing cannot sort out her feet in time, the ball deflecting back into the.
Chile doubled the lead in the in the 80th minute through Urrutia’s header sending Nigerian into nervous situation as Chile needed just one goal to edge the African champions out.
Five minutes later, the tension rose as a VAR reviewed ruled a penalty in favour of Chile. It was just four minutes to regulation time. Alas, Francisca Lara’s kick hit the cross bar! Respite, for Nigeria!
More drama and tension in the Nigerian camp as an added seven minutes was ruled by match officials. Chile threw every player forward in search of a third goal that could haven seen them through.
In the end, African football was the winner as both Nigeria and Cameroon made it to the Round of 16.
Nigeria last got to that stage 20 years ago in the US.