A 94th-minute winner has sent Portugal to their first FIFA Women’s World Cup after a dramatic Play-off Tournament final with Cameroon in Hamilton.
Diana Silva scored a 94th-minute winner as Portugal saw off Cameroon in the Play-off Tournament final to qualify for their first FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Francisco Neto’s side were deserving, dominant winners at Hamilton’s Waikato Stadium, with the Indomitable Lionesses – last-16 participants at the last two global finals – ultimately fortunate not to lose by a heavier margin.
Cameroon started the match with a 16-year-old-keeper, their first choice Ange Bawou having been sent off against Thailand, and Portugal – perhaps unsurprisingly – made an immediate point of peppering Cathy Biya’s goal.
Jessica Silva tested the youngster inside two minutes with a dangerous cross-cum-shot and, from the resultant corner, Kika Nazareth headed against the post.
Kika, still just 20 herself, is one of Portuguese football’s most exciting talents and she was the inspiration behind the team’s opening goal.
Taking control of a free-kick wide on the left flank, she caught out the Cameroon defence by going directly for goal with a powerful, swerving shot.
The ball rebounded back off the right-hand post but defender Diana Gomes was in the right place at the right time to pick up the rebound and slot gleefully home.
Cameroon offered little at the other end but the dangerous Ajara Nchout threatened occasionally on the break, producing one effort of note that Patricia Morais did well to parry to safety.
Portugal continued to dominate possession and create the better chances, though, and Diana Silva went close to doubling their lead early in the second half with an acrobatic, if wayward, volley.
Jessica had set up that chance from the right flank and this elusive winger proved equally effective after switching to the left, leaving her marker for dead on one occasion to tee up Kika for a header that flashed wide when it seemed easier to score.
In between times, Andreia Norton had gone closer still with a superb 35-yard strike that left the crossbar shuddering.
Despite their dominance, every missed chance increased Portuguese fears of being caught by a Cameroonian sucker-punch. And with good reason.
Their warning came when Michaela Abam raced through to score on 85 minutes only to find that, in making her run, she had strayed narrowly offside.
But it was not heeded, and when Portugal afforded Nchout too much time at the edge of the area, she punished them with a powerful low left-foot finish into the bottom-right corner.
Eighty-nine minutes had already been played at this stage and extra time looked to be beckoning. But when an Estelle Johnson handball was spotted following a VAR check, it handed the Europeans a golden opportunity to reclaim the lead and secure their World Cup spot.
Costa stepped up to take on this awesome responsibility and kept her cool admirably, side-footing low and hard beyond Biya to spark wild Portuguese celebrations.