Goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie helped Nigeria secure a valuable 0-0 draw against Olympic champions Canada in their Women’s World Cup opener on Friday in a result that threw their group wide open.
Nnadozie saved a penalty in the 50th minute at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, denying Christine Sinclair from the spot with a leap low to her left as the Canada skipper missed out on becoming the first player to score in six World Cups.
The teams were left with a point each, trailing Group B leaders Australia by two following the co-hosts’ 1-0 win over Ireland on Thursday.
Both sides had their chances but Sinclair, who came off in the 70th minute, was perhaps the most frustrated, having also missed a good opportunity when she fired wide in the ninth minute.
Nigeria barely breached the final third in the second half but defended desperately to hold the Canadians out to the finish.
After the final whistle, Nnadozie slumped to her knees and pumped her fists while roaring in celebration.
Nigeria’s joy was tempered by a red card handed out to midfielder Deborah Abiodun deep in stoppage time. She will miss their next game against Australia.
Canada dominated possession and it was not long before Nigeria were opened up, with Sinclair finding space on the edge of the area and blasting wide of the right post.
Nigeria belatedly found their groove and began chiselling away at the Canadian defence down the left flank.
Ifeoma Onumonu unloaded from long range in the 23rd minute, forcing goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan into a diving save at the far post.
Jordyn Huitema fired back for Canada minutes later with a good chance in the box but headed well wide.
The scrappiness continued, with Sheridan charging off her line 10 minutes from the break and missing the ball with a clearing kick to give Nigeria a glimpse at goal.
But Asisat Oshoala’s cross at the near post was blocked and both teams went to the break frustrated.
Canada’s frustration spiked shortly after the interval as Sinclair was brought down in the box by Francisca Ordega, the penalty awarded by VAR.
But Nnadozie blocked Sinclair’s tepid spot kick to trigger a huge roar from Nigerian fans.
Another Canadian chance went begging when substitute Evelyne Viens latched onto a header in the area but volleyed straight into the arms of the Nigerian keeper as the Africans stood firm to the finish.
The group stage has begun and runs over a two-week period finishing on August 3. Group winners and runners-up progress to the round of 16, which takes place from August 5 to August 8.
The quarter-finals, which will be held in Wellington, Auckland, Brisbane and Sydney, are scheduled for August 11 and 12.
The first semi-final will then be played on August 15 in Auckland, with the other semi-final taking place on August 16 at the Accor Stadium in Sydney, which will then host the final on August 20.
A third-place play-off will be played the day before the final on August 19 in Brisbane.