By Albert Akota
The Nigeria Women’s U-20 team, the Falconets, have qualified for the quarter-final stage of the ongoing FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup taking place in France.
A last-ditch effort from Rasheedat Ajibade saved Nigeria from exiting the cadet Women Cup as the Falconets forced China to a 1-1 draw.
Just before the break, L.Y. Zhang had put China ahead and they held on to their slim till the later stages
Mengyu Shen had the first chance of the match on 25 minutes when she hit the Nigeria crossbar. A few minutes later, Captain Linlin Wang headed over the target from close range.
China’s breakthrough came four minutes before half-time, as the diminutive Linyan Zhang turned her Nigerian marker in the box and stroked the ball past a diving Chiamaka Nnadozie to give the Asians the lead at the break.
The Super Falconets pushed hard in search of an equaliser in the second half, but found the China backline and goalkeeper Huan Xu in resilient form until the end of the contest.
With seconds left to play, substitute Aishat Bello’s byline cross from the right saw captain Rashdeedat Ajibade challenge for the ball with China right-back Jiaxing Dou.
The Asians were stronger in defence in the second half as the Nigerian girls continued to push for an equalizer.
With Five minutes added at the end of regulation time, the Falconets gave the last push and their effort was rewarded as Ajibade scored to bring the tie to a 1-1 draw and qualify the team for the quarter-final.
Meanwhile, President of Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) Amb Chris Giwa has commended the Falconets for picking a quarter final ticket.
Amb. Giwa said the girls gave their all, till the very end and got the deserved equaliser needed to progress from the group.
“We are happy the girls qualified that is what is most important for us. It was definitely going to be a tough and difficult game for the Falconets considering what was at stake, “he noted.
The President argued:” The Chinese dominated the first half and seem to have played better, but our girls knew what was important, picking a point and progressing, and that was what they did”
“We have crossed the group hurdle and can now look ahead to the next match, and hope the coaches will work on some of the lapses noticed in the game, before our next match, Amb. Giwa concluded.
In the meantime, the Acting General Secretary of the NFF, Dr Emmanuel Ikpeme has described the qualification of the Falconets as a demonstration of hardwork, determination and can-do-spirit of the average Nigerian.
“I am very proud of the girls because they held on till the end , even when the odds were against them, and the reward for their efforts was the draw that was needed for the quarter final ticket,”Dr Ikpeme stated.
He noted:” From now on, anything is possible with hardwork and determination, our girls can have the better of their next opponents in the quarter finals and hopefully, progress to the semis”.
The Coach Christopher Musa-tutored side has now scored two goals and conceded two in the tournament.