Nigeria pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the 2022 FIFA U-17 World Cup, beating the United States of America 4-3 on penalties in the quarterfinals at the D. Y. Patil Stadium here on Friday.
It was a historic win as the Flamingoes qualified for the semifinals for the first time in their history.
Ella Sanchez had the chance to put the USA ahead in the first minute, but a timely challenge from Blessing Emmanuel ended the move.
The USA was the dominant team in the initial stages of the first half, but it was Nigeria which broke the deadlock when USA defender Ella Emri fouled Amina Bello inside the box in the 24th minute.
Referee Luliana Demetrescu – who did not rule anything initially – was asked by the Video Assistant Referee to check the screen. After a TV check, she reversed her decision and pointed to the spot for a Nigeria penalty.
Omamuzo Edafe sent goalkeeper Valentina Amaral the wrong way and converted her penalty to give Nigeria the lead in the 26th minute.
The USA soon restored parity with five minutes left in the half.
Left-winger Onyeka Gamero slipped a well-timed pass to Amalia Villarreal, who had made a run on the overlap. Villarreal connected well, and the ball ended in the back of the net after taking a deflection off Comfort Folorunsho, who had tried to block the shot.
The USA head coach Natalia Astrain made her attacking intentions clear by bringing in Charlotte Kohler, Melina Rebimbas and Mia Bhuta in the second half, but a resilient Nigeria held on.
With the game going into penalties, Nigeria replaced goalkeeper Faith Omilana with Chikamso Jiwuaku while Edet Offiong replaced injured Amina Bello, who was forced off the pitch on a stretcher.
The penalty shootout was dramatic. USA’s Emri was the first player to miss her penalty. Nigeria was nearing victory – with the score 3-2 in its favour – but Folorunsho’s penalty miss meant that the shootout was not yet over.
The ecstasy of the USA, however, was cut short as captain Riley Jackson’s penalty was saved.
With the shootout going into the last of the five shots, USA’s keeper had to save Edafe’s attempt. But, the Nigerian kept her nerve to score and script history.
“I am proud of my girls. We played the football we wanted to but unfortunately the finishing today was not up to the mark. This is just the U-17 level and I am certain these girls will go on to win a lot of titles,” said Astrain.
Nigeria head coach Bankole Olowookere tried maintaining a calm demeanour in the post-match interaction but could not contain his elation, “In football, you have to be ready for any situation. I have always said that. My girls were ready,” he said.