England scraped into the quarterfinals of the Women’s World Cup when they beat Nigeria 4-2 on penalties in Brisbane on Monday.
Despite Nigeria having the better of the chances throughout, the European Champions – reduced to 10 players after 87 minutes – snuck home in front of 50 000 spectators after the match had finished 0-0 at the end of extra time
England held on after playmaker Lauren James received a red card for a needless stamp and will know they have to improve if they want to add the World Cup to their European crown.
They will face Colombia or Jamaica on Saturday for a place in the semifinals.
England got off to a terrible start in the penalty shootout when Georgia Stanway fired wide, but Desire Oparanozie couldn’t take advantage and missed with an almost identical effort.
Beth England made no mistake, but Nigeria’s Michelle Alozie shot way over top to give England an advantage they never surrendered, sealing the win when Chloe Kelly calmly converted.
The Lionesses, who last year won the European Championship at a packed Wembley Stadium in London, were expected to win comfortably against the world’s 40th ranked team.
The Nigerians, however, have shown in this World Cup that they have the game to challenge anybody.
They stunned hosts Australia in the group stage, taking advantage of their speed in the transition to score a 3-2 win.
And they employed the same tactics against England, whose back three were regularly exposed by the Nigerian attack.
England had started the match strongly and rattled Nigeria in the opening skirmishes as the Lionesses found plenty of space out wide.
They also controlled possession, completing 173 passes in the first half to Nigeria’s 83.
But it was the Nigerians who looked the most dangerous and they gave the European champions a real fright on a number of occasions.
England-born Ashleigh Plumptre had two golden chances to open the scoring, the first coming in the 16th minute when a strike from outside the box crashed into the crossbar.
A minute later she forced a fine diving save from Mary Earps.
The Nigerians had eight shots at goal in the first half, three more than England, whose best chance fell to Alessia Russo in the 23rd minute.
The second half followed the same pattern as the first, England dominating possession but Nigeria looking the more dangerous.
England had a golden chance to seal the match with 15 minutes left only for Chiamaka Nnadozie to pull off a fine save from Rachel Daly’s powerful header.
The game inevitably went to extra time and again Nigeria looked most likely, Michele Alozie and Oshoala both going close, but neither team could break the deadlock.